By DAN MACINTOSH
We usually turn to The Raconteurs, one of Jack White’s multiple creative outlets, for something a little different from this former White Stripes leader’s familiar loud, blues-based rock and roll. And yet, Help Us Stranger kicks off with the majestic, electric guitar riff-y “Bored and Razed.” Lyrically (and musically) it’s a testament to the band members’ Michigan roots, especially when they sing, “Well, I’m Detroit born and raised.” In other words, this sonic isn’t all that far from White’s usual wheelhouse.
The Raconteurs’ “something a little different” usually entails a lot more power-pop tuneage, and much less blue-rock bluster. While the harmony vocals are, for the most part, laid on thicker than White’s other collectives, this collection is more ‘usual Jack White,’ than much that’s distinctly different.
The album’s sole cover song, “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness),” is a re-do of folky, psychedelic Donovan. However, The Raconteurs rev it up to early Rolling Stones blues-rock level, complete with wailing harmonica.
One that more than lives up to our Raconteurs expectations, though, is “Live A Lie.” Its jittery, guitar riff-ery is as lovably hyper as Spoon or The Hives. Another song particularly Raconteur-esque is the choppy guitar rock groove driving “Sunday Driver.” This one also has a Rubber Soul-era Beatles-y psychedelic vocal section. THIS one is what we expected the whole album to sound like.
Once “Sunday Driver” is said and done, though, we’re given “Now That You’re Gone,” a slow grooving blues regret. “What’s Yours Is Mine” is another electric guitar-charging number. The album’s sonic template sounds to be ’60s pre-metal. Bluesy, yes, but very white (and also very (Jack) White).
The project includes a couple of quieter tunes, too. “Only Child” borrows from the Bible’s story about the Prodigal Son for its lyrical direction. The album closes with “Thoughts And Prayers,” which combines earthy acoustic guitar picking with a mountain fiddle mini jam toward the song’s end.
The Raconteurs offers Jack White a different set of musicians with which to explore his musical vision, but let’s not fool ourselves here, White is fully in charge. Lyrically, White doesn’t seem to have a lot of heavy subject matter to sing about with Help Us Stranger. This focus away from message music has allowed him to let his sonic imagination run wild. It’s not the best Raconteurs album, nor is it the best White project (out of his many and varying projects). Nevertheless, few artists are creating consistently solid guitar rock these days the way White does. He’s by no means any stranger, but since modern music needs a whole lot of help right now, we’ll take it.
The Raconteurs – Help Me Stranger