The Raconteurs/The Twilight Singers/Shack 2006 David Bennun
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The Raconteurs/
The Twilight Singers/

[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]

THE PHRASE “SIDE PROJECT” is unlikely to fill you with anticipation; still less, “Supergroup”. Not that The Raconteurs are “super”, in that sense. They're noted for the presence of The White Stripes' Jack White, rather than two fellow rocking garagistes from The Greenhornes plus singer-songwriter Brendan Benson.
 Broken Boy Soldiers (XL**) does not, despite the band's name, contain much by way of narrative songcraft. Nor is the cracking power-pop single Steady As She Goes a guide to what follows. Steppenwolf, Blue Cheer, early Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin - the bands linking psychedelia to metal - nourish this album; and for over half of its brief span, it gives a good account of itself. Then it tepidly tails off. It would have made a fine EP.
 Afghan Whigs, one of the great bands of the Nineties, hinged upon the songs, voice and persona of Greg Dulli, a soul man in a rock singer's body. Dulli always understood that soul was inherent in the feel of music, not the genre. His next vehicle, The Twilight Singers, garnered less acclaim; but Powder Burns (One Little Indian ****) marks the searing return suggested by its title.
 Dulli specialises in grappling with the male id. He depicts love and sex as bitter, protracted warfare in which women are both enemy and spoils. In other hands, this might come across as hysterical or misogynist. Dulli has a gift for cutting right to the bone. Shameful emotions and uncomfortable truths are his stock in trade. On Powder Burns, he's come up with a set of songs approaching the standard on the Whigs' masterful Gentlemen and Black Love albums - seething, lascivious, abrasive and vengeful. All the qualities Dulli does best.
 We all know bands that send others into raptures but leave us, if not unmoved, then admiring but a touch puzzled by those ecstasies. The much loved Go-Betweens were one such for me; another is Liverpool combo The Pale Fountains, whose lilting melodicism encouraged the likes of The Boo Radleys and The Coral, and who subsequently metamorphosed into their current incarnation as Shack.
 The Corner Of Miles And Gil (Sour Mash***), referring to bebop titans Davis and Evans, could not state its ambitions more explicitly; nor could it hope to live up to them. But better unrealised ambition than the all-too-well realised mundanity that's now ubiquitous. Occasional trumpet passages aside, Shack aim to reproduce not the sound but the spirit of Miles Davis. They take more direct cues from Nick Drake, John Sebastian and Tim Buckley, and distil from their estimable influences a light, sweet, hazy sound through which clarity intermittently ripples. Corner is a delicately summery album, not quite the classic it wants to be, but so much more than the wallpaper it might have been; and one that sounds deceptively effortless and serene.

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