Help Us Stranger
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The space of over ten years between releases for The Raconteurs doesn’t make it any easier to label the band’s idiosyncratic approach. Eclectic only starts to describe the Jack White/Brendan Benson fronted quartet’s combination of rock, blues, folk, prog and singer-songwriter sounds, all sprinkled with a bittersweet psychedelic coating.
It doesn’t feel like that long since the group’s sophomore set because the ease with which they fall into these songs, picking up where they left off on 2008’s Consolers Of The Lonely, shows the four piece has a connection that may transcend the music. From the throbbing Led Zeppelin-styled hard rock of “Don’t Bother Me” (complete with short drum solo), to the following Elton John/10cc influenced piano ballad “Shine The Light On Me” and the riff-rawk driven “What’s Yours is Mine,” these four guys play together like a well-oiled machine, not one that has been idle for a decade.
The tracks that Benson sings such as the folk/blues/pop “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” and the melodic Beatle/McCartney-vibe of “Only Child” are more pop-oriented which provides a slightly less intense yin to White’s tougher yang. There’s a glam coating on rockers such as “Sunday Driver” and the opening “Bored and Razed” that suggests a contemporary version of T.Rex, not the first time that comparison has been lobbed at White. The disc’s only cover is a taut, motorized take on Donovan by way of the Animals’ “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)” which says as much for the Raconteurs’ trippy influences (“I’ll buy you a sugar cube if you just give me some of your love”) as it does for their imaginative and driving reading of one of folk/blues more underground and offbeat gems. They go power pop with the crunchy, Benson sung “Live a Lie” that after hearing most listeners will check to see if it’s some obscure Cheap Trick B-side.
The only time things get tender is on the closing “Thoughts and Prayers” where they bring in sisters Scarlett and Lillie Mae Riche on mandolin and violin respectively. There is plenty of acoustic Zeppelin referenced on the apocalyptic track, with White even doing his best Plant voice, singing, “I used to look up at the sky … but now the earth is gray.”
Sure, Jack White is a busy guy. But based on the quality of the music he makes with his Raconteurs buddies on Help Us Stranger, here’s hoping he won’t go another ten years before delivering its follow-up.