Broken Boy Soldiers

Steady, As It Goes: The Raconteurs’ ‘Broken Boy Soldiers’ Turns 15

The Raconteurs’ Broken Boy Soldiers sets itself apart from anything like it, even 15 years later. The band’s debut somehow starts two great stories.

Broken Boy Soldiers
The Raconteurs
Third Man Records
16 May 2006

Level

Another definitive Raconteurs jam that—and I cannot overstate this—was incredible live back in 2006, 2008, 2011, and even 2019. It’s big and dumb rock and roll, and these seasoned veterans of the genre absolutely rip on it.


Store Bought Bones

This song can see the future, or at least it shares a sonic palette with The White Stripes’ Icky Thump. That makes you think that maybe bass and a second guitar, more keys, and a generally fuller sound isn’t such a bad thing after all.


Yellow Sun

In 2006, and having barely heard a Beatles song previously, I latched onto something a reviewer (probably from that same Entertainment Weekly issue) said about Benson and White’s Paul & John vibes in songs where they share vocal duties. In hindsight, that’s super reductive, but I’ll be damned if this song doesn’t have some similarities to “Here Comes The Sun”’s breezy sounds and precious lyrics. Dare I say, The Raconteurs do it better?


Call It a Day

I could probably name every Raconteurs song off the top of my head except for this one. Situated on the back half of the album, it gets a little buried, which is a shame. Ten’s a good number of songs for an album (nine feels a little too short), so as a piece of adhesive, we must acknowledge “Call It a Day”, which sounds more like a Benson solo joint than anything else.


Blue Veins

“Ball & Biscuit” fans had to wonder if this record would deliver an Elephant-era guitar rocker to appease the White Stripes aficionados. Worry not, though, because they totally did. As solid an album closer as “Blue Veins” may be, its best moment is found in the It Might Get Loud documentary, where White showcases the bloodstains all over the guitar from a recent guitar solo.


The Raconteurs were never a novelty act, which is a novelty in and of itself in Jack White’s corpus. How about the White Stripes? Duh. What about the Dead Weather? Well, he drums and she sings, so yes! Even Jack White’s solo output is laden with novel elements. (Hell, there are two bands and they play songs from his whole songwriting catalog!) With the Raconteurs, though, there is no novelty. For the most part, their status as a supergroup—the only thing truly veering towards novelty act territory—is tragically downplayed. There is no fawning over “the best rhythm section in rock and roll”, as White frequently says of Lawrence and Keeler’s roots-rock outfit The Greenhornes, nor has Brendan Benson’s exceptional run as a singer-songwriter (seven albums deep, two of which are absolute masterpieces) risen above cult fame. It’s a shame, really, but that’s exactly what makes the Raconteurs so extraordinary: their novel normalcy.

It’s hard to say whether or not the basic formula for classic rock was less cool in the late oughts or in 2019 when the band returned, but one thing is for sure: that boring “your dad’s record collection” schtick these four dudes did during the era of the Strokes was astonishing and magical. Whether digested 15 years ago or 15 minutes ago, Broken Boy Soldiers sets itself apart from anything else like it—and anything unlike it—as an extraordinary album.

The Raconteurs’ debut somehow starts two great stories: one is an epic three-year/ two-album blink-and-you-miss-it moment in alternative rock, and the other is a much longer return-of-the-king championship run that shows how vital their story really is. A decade and a half later, we can only wonder if these guys have completed what they thought they had to do—and hope that they haven’t.  

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