PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

'Help Us Stranger' Is a Rousing, Welcome Return for the Raconteurs

Photo: Olivia Jean / Big Hassle Publicity

On their first album in more than ten years, Jack White's acclaimed foursome the Raconteurs are back with a solid collection of songs.

Help Us Stranger
The Raconteurs

Third Man

21 June 2019

The next time your cranky, baby boomer uncle bitches about the lack of good rock music being made these days, you can throw him a copy of Help Us Stranger and he'll probably shut up. The Raconteurs – the long-dormant side project of Jack White, Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler, and Jack Lawrence – last released an album in 2008 with (Consolers of the Lonely), and their latest album essentially continues along the same bluesy, garage-rock path. It's an opportunity for the ever-prolific White – whose most recent solo album, Boarding House Reach, was a psychotic if polarizing, masterpiece – to rein in some of his more outlandish tendencies and participate in a more meat-and-potatoes rock venture.

That isn't to minimize the artistic feats of Help Us Stranger (which, as of this writing, is the number-one album in the United States). The Raconteurs have found the sweet spot between quality songwriting and tight musicianship, and both the blustering boogie and longing ballads present throughout the album shouldn't be considered empty-headed guilty pleasures. Opening track "Bored and Razed" veers between simmering, almost jazzy blues runs and frenetic riffing. "California bored and razed," Benson croons in the chorus, providing a sweet antidote to White's gruff verses.

The minor-key acoustic folk of "Only Child" allows the Raconteurs to straddle the line between 1970s folk and blues-tinged Led Zeppelin worship (as usual, White's stinging guitar leads provide the appropriate edge). And it says a lot about the band when they're able to transition seamlessly from that into the breathless punk shuffle of "Don't Bother Me", complete with accusatory lyrics ("Your hidden agenda / You ruthless rule bender / Your surface duplicity / It's all nothing new to me"). When they cede to outside songwriting, the vibe remains edgy, electric and unique. The album's one cover, "Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)" was a 1965 Donovan b-side, but the original tune's syncopated shuffle is right in the Raconteurs' wheelhouse, with a little extra speed and amplification to ease it into the album's overall mood.

Elsewhere, the glam strut of "Sunday Driver" and "What's Yours Is Mine" provide plenty of potent riffs, particularly for anyone who may have felt slighted by the overly experimental nature of Boarding House Reach (although "Sunday Driver" has a lovely, psychedelic middle section that prevents the song from wallowing in classic rock posturing). "Shine the Light on Me" allows the band to stretch their baroque power ballad muscles with enough angelic harmonies and graceful piano chords to suggest that White and Benson have mid-1970s Queen on heavy rotation.

Amid all the garage riffs and classic rock tropes, Help Us Stranger reminds us that the Raconteurs are, after all, a Nashville-based band with a healthy appetite for twang. "Somedays (I Don't Feel Like Trying)" is a heartfelt country ballad beefed up with power chords to produce what can best be described as alt-country Lynyrd Skynyrd. That eclectic spirit is given an even bigger boost in the song's surprising final movement, a country-fried coda with the lines "I'm here right now / I'm not dead yet" repeated by White and Benson not just a tacked-on chorus, but something of a mantra.

With only three full-length albums released in a span of 13 years, it's a shame that the Raconteurs' output is so stingy (although it's understandable, considering the multitude of projects its collective members take on at any given moment). But albums like Help Us Stranger – which are infused with an almost effortless range – remind us that this is a band with a multitude of gifts. Not dead yet, indeed.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror, Vol. 1'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.