The Raconteurs: Help Us Stranger - Album Review
This is what punching below your weight sounds like.
When the Raconteurs left in 2008, it’s hard to say it was for the best. Co-frontmen Jack White and Brendan Benson each took on solo endeavours, leading to a mixed bag of classic and blues rock albums that relied heavily on their singles. 2018 saw White take a step forward in creativity with the spectacular Boarding House Reach, an album he produced using pro tools for the first time. The result, while certainly not for everyone, was a marked step up from his typical minimalist or maximalist styles, opening up new pathways for his various other outfits to be influenced by. Help Us Stranger, the first album from the Raconteurs in 11 years, comfortably ignores White’s recent innovations, relying instead on the brand of classic rock that’s likely to mildly enthuse many and impress none.
There are hints of change on Help Us Stranger. The lo-fi intro of “Help Me Stranger” is lullaby-esque in all the right ways, and the hip-hop influenced cover of “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” fits finely into the “excellent cover” slot of White’s previous releases. Smart lyrics crop up as if recorded for a different project, stealing the show on bored folk-rock cuts like “Thoughts and Prayers,” in which White coos ever-so-softly “who cares how people live, if livin’s all they got?”
As usual, White is the central force of the band, which is made up of Patrick Keeler, Jack Lawrence, White and Benson. In such a stacked four-piece, it seems unlikely that the performances would be anything less than stellar; for the most part, the Raconteurs are content to check boxes, steering clear of anything too surprising or off-putting. The guitar scraggle in “Sunday Driver” is just noise, unlike the cut-throat tone of White’s “Over and Over and Over.” As a fan of White’s voice, it’s easy to find a few things to like in the tracklist, but if that’s all you’re into, there’s not much for you here.
Fuzzed-out soloing and folk-rock plodding run rampant, to the point where the 13 tracks bleed together into an indistinguishable mash of blues. Through the pain, however, the band deliver a few good tunes, namely opener “Born and Razed,” a slick piece of stadium rock with catchy guitar leads and a roided-out chorus; it’s dramatic, and White has always had an ear for drama. Just listen to “Would You Fight For My Love?”, a deep-album cut that’s practically the theme for a spaghetti western. “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)” is sort of experimental, but exists in a vacuum between 4-4 time signatures and bland lyrics like “Some days I just feel like crying.” Trouble is, there’s just too much indulgence on Help Us Stranger to make it worth a listen for anyone not solely interested in the current blues-rock revival. It’s Jack White writing Greta Van Fleet-level songs, alongside a band that’s capable of much more.