The Raconteurs made their 2006 debut with "Broken Boy Soldiers," a delightful burst of power-pop enthusiasm that found Jack White showcasing his range as a songsmith by partnering with fellow singer and songwriter Brendan Benson to find a much more expansive and challenging setting for his talents than the now well-defined blues-rock minimalism of the White Stripes. The problem with the follow-up is that White was so eager to go in the opposite direction that the Raconteurs' second album topples under the weight of its own maximalist bombast and hollow filigree.
Yes, with "Consolers of the Lonely" -- rush-released in all formats on Tuesday to prevent leaks (though leak it did) -- the Raconteurs have made the sort of art-rock record that gave art-rock a bad name, heavy with pretentiously tinkling grand pianos, overwrought guitar solos, those mariachi horns that White loves so much ("The Switch and the Spur"), sawing fiddles that give way to rampaging Moogs ("Old Enough") and (egads!) an absolutely wretched orchestral homage to Queen at its very worst ("Many Shades of Black").
Echoing the arguments self-indulgent art-rockers such as Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer made for flawed epics like "Tales from Topographic Oceans" and "Works, Volume 1" back in the day, the Raconteurs issued a press release stating they "prefer that fans buy the album as a whole instead of breaking up the tracks" ('cause genius just can't be carved into three-minute blasts for your iPod, don'tcha know). The irony here is that "Consolers of the Lonely" is one of the least consistent album-length rides from a major band in recent memory, and the few good moments -- including the more typically effervescent single "Salute Your Solution" or the bouncy "Attention" -- are best appreciated via exactly that sort of cherry-picking.