The Raconteurs
Help Us Stranger



by Rudy K. STAFF
June 26th, 2019 | 15 replies

Release Date: 2019 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Twilight of the gods.

I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Raconteurs, because they taught me to temper my expectations at a young age. Growing through my teenage years, there were few artists I admired more than Jack White and loved more than Brendan Benson. The White Stripes’ earlier records remain deeply imprinted into my brainstem, more a primeval force of nostalgia than artistic statements. Brendan Benson’s stellar, underrated ‘00s run – 2002’s Lapalco, 2005’s The Alternative to Love, and 2009’s My Old, Familiar Friend – did more than any other artist’s work to brand me as a power-pop obsessive, soundtracking an embarrassing number of mix tapes from eighth grade through college. Broken Boy Soldiers, the Raconteurs’ 2006 debut, though, proved that old adage about the sum being less than its parts. It’s an enjoyable record to be sure, but even to a fanboy like me it was uneven, scattered and, worst of all: trivial.

Then, it all went away: the Raconteurs released Consolers of the Lonely, a downright gorgeous, if overstuffed, Southern gothic masterpiece that was promptly ignored by the world at large, and White, Benson, and the Greenhornes making up the rhythm section abandoned the project for greener creative pastures. For White, that led to the Dead Weather (with bassist Jack Lawrence) and a line of solo records, the quality of which eerily track his descent from rock god to a Willy Wonka-esque figure with an aversion to hooks and a penchant for gramophone-era country music; for Benson, there were a couple more increasingly colorless albums, and then silence. That Help Us Stranger now arrives seemingly out of nowhere to revive the Raconteurs brand at the exact time its principals’ fortunes are flagging (relatively, of course, for White) could give the impression of a desperate grasp for relevance at best or a lazy cash grab, at worse. My expectations, suffice to say, were sufficiently tempered.

I’m happy to report that Help Us Stranger avoids either of those scenarios: the Raconteurs’ third album may not reach the heights of Consolers of the Lonely, and with its dedication to no-frills, FM rock ‘n roll (they cover a goddamn Donovan song), it already sounds slightly dated, but it’s the purest, most fun music either White or Benson have put out in over a decade. When White’s squalling verses kick into the soaring California sunset of Benson’s chorus on opener “Bored and Razed,” I want to punch a hole in the wall; kick down the door; air guitar across my living room. “Old Child” and “Shine The Light On Me” remind me of the simple beauty that Benson’s multifaceted melodies can still bring. And “Don’t Bother Me” is a wincing reminder of White’s lyrical deterioration, but damn if that solo doesn’t rip. But while it’s White’s reputation that is most rehabilitated here, it’s Benson’s melodic fingerprints that can be found all over Help Us Stranger, tossing off melancholy power-pop diamonds like “Only Child” and encouraging White to stay within the lines while focusing the guitarist’s considerable musical prowess into tight vocal performances and beefier riffs.

Benson and White have done better things on their own throughout their careers than Help Us Stranger, and it’s fair to ask whether those times are in the past. Yet tracks like the woozy, full-bodied “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)” and the punchy, funky “Help Me Stranger” demonstrate what both are still capable of together: effortless vocal chemistry, a give-and-take between White’s vibrant guitar playing and Benson’s well-worn, everyman pathos, and a keen eye towards the best hook, all supported by a rhythm section that has apparently only gotten better with age. The negative bits that afflict the songwriters individually – clunky lyrics, a tendency to trend towards clutter, influences taking up whole damn sleeves – certainly remain here, but somehow, together, the couple’s issues never overwhelm, never distract from the Raconteurs’ thesis statement of just making great, concise rock songs. Just when I thought these parts would always smother the whole, Help Me Stranger comes along and fucks up my expectations one more time.

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user ratings (101)

Comments:Add a Comment 
Staff Reviewer
June 26th 2019


Album Rating: 3.7

hey this wasn't half-bad

Digging: Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

June 26th 2019


If Jack White annoys the absolute living shit out of me nowadays but I used to love his music would I possibly enjoy this

Digging: The Raging Nathans - Waste My Heart

Staff Reviewer
June 26th 2019


Album Rating: 3.7

hahaha ya, you're pretty much describing me. this tails off in the second half but still very enjoyable

June 26th 2019


Hmmm interesting, will check then!

Staff Reviewer
June 26th 2019


I still really, really like Blunderbuss but holy shit he's been bad since

June 26th 2019


I also loved Consolers of the Lonely so I'm obligated to spin this, despite really not digging much else of Jack White's material. So yeah good review klap

edit: yeah the best tracks here all the higher-energy ones like Don't Bother Me. But a 3.5ish is about as good as could be expected at this point in the band's existence

Digging: Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend

June 26th 2019


First 2 albums are great, this is garb

Digging: Rochelle Jordan - Play With The Changes

June 26th 2019


This has some great individual songs, Bored and Razed is a jam. Not the kind of album I'm gonna listen to front to back very often though. Good review as always.

Digging: Bruno Pernadas - Private Reasons

June 27th 2019


The first Rac album is the last time I liked a JW joint. Got my fingers crossed for this.

Staff Reviewer
June 27th 2019


Are these the guys of "Steady as she goes"?

Digging: Kultivator - Barndomens Stigar

Staff Reviewer
June 27th 2019


Album Rating: 3.7

ya, but salute your solution should really be the single everyone remembers in a just world

June 27th 2019


Album Rating: 3.5

spot on review, klap-boi.

June 28th 2019


Album Rating: 3.0

Gotta say this album feels a little pretentious. Might be how forced the songs are. It just feels like it's borrowing sounds and pieces of melodies from the classics to wedge its way amid them, but in a way that seems like that's its sole purpose.

I guess the ambition of doing so pays off for some of the songs, but it's not really my cuppa'.

March 22nd 2020


I found it to be pretty boring/bland/uninspired. There are a few alright songs, but nothing that really makes me want to listen to the album again.

June 9th 2020


Album Rating: 4.0

I forgot how enjoyable this was.

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