Raconteurs dominate with fierce new album

Jack White has more faces than a high-school yearbook. The specter with an ambiguous past; the rambling folk songwriter; the blazing guitar guru - the man is short of no mysticisms. He's also a workhorse; just nine months since releasing Icky Thump with his cymbal-smashing peppermint patty, Meg White, he's back again with 14 new songs on the Raconteurs' second album, Consolers of the Lonely.

Of course, it would be unfair to discredit Raconteurs co-founder Brendan Benson for his efforts, but let's be fair here. This is White's runaway train, and he's plowing it straight through the foundation of hard rock laid by Led Zeppelin and Cream with forceful abandon. Consolers, which has been called Icky Thump's little sister based on the resemblance to the White Stripes, is one of the greatest straightforward assaults of rock and roll to be molded out of strings and snares in a long, long time. It isn't Icky's little sister, it's her roid-raging mutant twin - it betters that album in nearly every way.

Proof rears its head immediately on the opening title track. A harmonized Benson sings, "Light bulbs are getting dim/My interest is starting to wane/I'm told it's everything a man could want/And I shouldn't complain," but musically, it's the sheer opposite. White provides a crunching, trademark riff that alternates with the verses, and when his scratchy voice crashes through the noise, it's spine-tingling. The song ends with a rupturing guitar battle between White and Benson. A more satisfying money shot could not have been provided to close the song.

It doesn't end there. "Many Shades of Black" channels an unmistakable Wings-era Paul McCartney; the first single, "Salute Your Solution," takes an early White Stripes garage riff and warps it with a nasty organ solo. The album closer, "Carolina Drama," is a Kentucky-fried folk story, offering a poetic epilogue that tells the tale of a boy, his mother and her violent boyfriend. It's a flawless testament to White's talent as a songwriter.

The truth is that in spite of relying heavily on the mainframe of hard rock and not really paving any new ground musically, Consolers finds the band a lot less self-conscious than on their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers. They don't care about making sure you know they aren't the White Stripes by being clumsily artsy. They don't care about anything but blowing the doors off the place. What more can you ask for?