Good, but not great return
The Raconteurs are something of a rock supergroup, though they refuse to use the term. Originally formed in 2005, it began when singer-songwriter Brendan Benson teamed up with The White Stripes’ architect Jack White. They quickly realized their songwriting chemistry was special and filled out the lineup with bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler. The band then went dormant as suddenly as they’d come alive, going on a recording hiatus for over a decade before dropping a brand new album in 2019 Help Us Stranger, recorded in White’s home studio and released on White’s own label Third Man Records.
On the surface, the first thing that helps Help Us Stranger stand out from The Raconteurs’ previous works is that it’s slightly more diverse. Benson is known for having a power pop background, while White was the face of the 2000s garage rock revival. Yet, this album contains more. “Shine The Light On Me” has a gleeful Beatles element with its cheesy piano hits, while epic closer “Thoughts And Prayers” has some frenetic violin soloing and sweeping Pink Floyd-esque vocal harmonies. Don’t worry, though, there’s lots of loud stuff too. Album opener “Bored and Razed” starts innocently enough, before launching into a driving garage-rock track with a massive chorus. Bluesy “Don’t Bother Me” contains White’s most aggressive vocals, and has an impressive three tempo changes in under three minutes. And the band’s cranked-up cover of Donovan’s “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)” is an album highlight.
Instrumentally, the album contains everything you could ask for in a Raconteurs record: White’s expressive guitar playing, thundering drums and bass, vocals with attitude and a little bit of oddness sprinkled in. But as a whole, Help Us Stranger runs into the problem that many albums do: it lacks a standout. Sure, many of the aforementioned songs are good, but outside of the context of the album, they aren’t particularly interesting, especially lyrically. While it’s always good when a band gets back together after extended time off and still can create solid music, Help us Stranger at times seems more like an exercise than a finished product. White and Benson obviously are good enough songwriters that they can pull this off, but those hoping for something truly special will have to wait for another album.