Since their seemingly out-of-nowhere 2006 debut, The Raconteurs have been a little confounding. A supergroup featuring just one superstar—its players are Jack White, singer-songwriter Brendan Benson, and the rhythm section of Cincinnati's The Greenhornes—it at first seemed like it was largely an outlet for White. As half of The White Stripes, he had to work within fairly strict, self-determined limitations while dealing with the pressures of popularity and critical acclaim. With his partners in The Raconteurs, he could stretch out and write any kind of song he liked—or sit back and kick in support when other members took the lead.

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Thing is, The Raconteurs' songs aren't that different from The White Stripes'. Take the Benson-led "The Switch And The Spur." Sure, the voice is different, but as soon as White's unmistakable guitar kicks in, it's back to familiar turf. Little here pushes beyond the boundaries of the Stripes' avant-garage sound.

Fortunately, that's a rich sound, and the band's second album, Consolers Of The Lonely, never seems less than new. The Raconteurs seemed comfortable with each other on their debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, and here, the chemistry has gotten even stronger. Tracks like "Salute Your Solution" and "Top Yourself" demand attention with guitar hooks and keep it with tight playing. It's a side project that has more intensity and commitment than most proper bands.

But sometimes The Raconteurs' competence and professionalism get in the way of their fieriness, particularly in moments that sound like a White Stripes album given a coat of '70s AOR polish. The disc closes with a song of gothic violence called "Carolina Drama" that, with descriptive details like "the white milk dripped down with the blood," would probably sound devastating without the spooky chorus and all the layered instrumental flourishes. Could it be that the group's most famous member, despite repeatedly proving the value of addition by subtraction, has started to follow a fussier muse?

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