The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger

by Brian Thompson Rating:8 Release Date:2019-06-21
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger
The Raconteurs - Help Us Stranger

The Raconteurs haven’t released a new album in over 11 years (since 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely) and yet with Help Us Stranger, they’ve picked up right where they left off. At a time where many artists (including members of this very band) continue to reinvent their sound and explore new horizons, the Detroit blues rockers have decided to go back to basics. And the result is every bit as pressing as any release we’ve heard from the group thus far.

When discussing The Raconteurs, many label it as “a Jack White project,” but the band has always been a collaborative effort, centering around his songwriting partnership with Brendan Benson. Here, White and Benson have penned their heartfelt love letter to classic rock, in all of its many iterations. As Help Us Stranger moves from the driving, pounding arena rock of "Bored and Razed" to the psychedelic pop rock of "Help Me Stranger" to the doo-wop harmonies "Shine the Light on Me," the thumbprints of a wide variety of genre influences are ever-present. The record even pulls from the realm of folk-rock, with a spastic, hard-hitting take on the Donovan B-side "Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)," Regardless of the aesthetic specifics, its clear that the band is having a blast playing with one another, even in the album’s most enraged moments. It’s a clear communal experience as they reach back into the varied history of rock-and-roll.

The Raconteurs continue to be such a tight band, and they know how to operate as a singular, cohesive unit. It’s that connective flow that allows them to simply rock out and play the music they love. As they play off one another’s strengths, guitars and kickdrums soar throughout heavier moments like the fuzzy, grungy riffs of "Sunday Driver," the post-punk mentality of "Live a Lie," and "Don't Bother Me," a swirling satire of the human disconnect of the information age. As the record progresses, they are able to expand their sound into strange new ventures, from the melting, expansive "What's Yours is Mine" to the twanged out, cowboy fingerpicking of "Thoughts and Prayers."

After the divisive experimental landscape that was last year’s Boarding House Reach, it’s refreshing to hear Jack White in a more stripped back, naturalistic setting, which is precisely where he settles in during the more tender moments of Help Us Stranger. The Raconteurs have consistently found a way to tie heaps of charisma into their soft, emotive narratives, as seen here on echoed, acoustic blues ballad "Only Child," bluesy, country-tinged album highlight "Somedays (I Don't Feel Like Trying)," and age-old ‘since my baby left me’ dirge "Now That You're Gone." There is genuine emotional heft to be found in these simple, straightforward tunes.

Because the genre no longer carries quite the same commercial weight as it once did, music journalists are all too willing to declare rock music dead. However, as we see on Help Us Stranger, there’s a timelessness to the hum of the guitar that continues to endure. By paying homage to the sounds that first made them fall in love with music, The Raconteurs are reminding us what it feels like to let yourself drift away into the comforts of guitar-fueled Americana.

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