Published Jun 18, 2019Jack White is coming off of the weirdest album of his career, last year's solo effort Boarding House Reach, so Help Us Stranger marks his return to more traditional guitar rock. The Raconteurs — also featuring co-frontman Brendan Benson, bassist Jack Lawrence and drummer Patrick Keeler — have always brought out White's retro side, and after a 11-year break between albums, this LP picks up right where the band left off.
Help Us Stranger touches on both the garage pop sweetness of 2006's Broken Boy Soldiers and the country rock sprawl of 2008's Consolers of the Lonely. The former comes out in the soaring choruses of "Bored and Razed" and the understated prettiness of "Only Child"; the latter is in the stately piano of "Shine the Light on Me" and the rustic fiddles of closer "Thoughts and Prayers." And the group spice things up with the occasional experiment, like the squelchy robo-guitar intro of "Sunday Driver" or the hip-hop swagger of "What's Yours Is Mine."
But more than any specific genre exercise, Help Us Stranger mostly sounds like a fun jam sesh among friends. The 12 songs are full of raw rock riffs and freewheeling structural changes: "Somedays (I Don't Feel Like Trying)" begins as smooth folk rock before shifting gears into a life-affirming sing-along finale, while "Don't Bother Me" overcomes some corny kids-these-days lyrics on the strength of its white-knuckle fuzz licks.
Compared to White's solo albums, Help Us Stranger feels like a low-stakes romp. And for a collaborative side-project, this is the best case scenario. White and Benson aren't trying to reinvent rock'n'roll, they're just bashing out some catchy tunes, and it's a blast to listen in on these old friends reconnecting. (Third Man Records)