June 18, 2019 The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger (Album Review)
Mark these words – The Raconteurs’ new album, Help Us Stranger, is poised to win a Grammy. After a decade-long hiatus Jack White (guitar, vocals), Brendan Benson (guitar, vocals), Jack Lawrence (bass, banjo), and Patrick Keeler (drums, percussion) are set to return with arguably the most ambitious, creative release of 2019 on Friday, June 21st by way of Third Man Records. Yes, it is a bold statement, and you are probably thinking, is really that good, or is this all just hype? Read on to find out…
A long overdue return, the last time the band released an album was 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely. With a lot happening in the world since then, fortunately fans have not forgotten about The Raconteurs, in fact it is just the opposite as they await the release of Help Us Strangers. Consisting of 12 tracks, all of which were written by White and Benson with except one cover, “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness),” which was written by Donovan, their third LP was recorded at White’s own Third Man Studio down in Nashville, TN.
Produced by the band and engineered by Joshua V. Smith, it all kicks off in true Raconteurs fashion with “Bored And Razed.” Beginning as a chill, groovy jam session that shifts to a high-tempo, Punk-guitar driven frolic guaranteed to lift your spirits where every member shines brightly. Thereafter, “Help Me Stranger” skews much more Folk-y, though it has a Latin/tropical flavor that elevates it to something else entirely. It is equal parts sophisticated and playful, yet embodies the maturation of a band comprised of true musicians at the peak of their artistry. Shifting gears a bit, “Only Child” focuses on acoustic guitar and a voice, which both perfectly captures the intimacy and loneliness of the lyrics.
Moving along, “Don’t Bother Me” goes over-the-top vocally, making it a schizophrenic cut whose sound ranges from Jazz to Motörhead. This is before the album’s potential masterpiece “Shine The Light On Me” which begins with a Gospel vibe that soon transitions into a piano-driven romp which stands with the best of classic Progressive musical acts like Styx, Electric Light Orchestra, or Queen. Beautiful and profound, the first half of the album winds down with the old-school Country, save for the Gothic, Black Sabbath-like guitar driven cut “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying).”
Which leads perfectly into the album’s aforementioned cover, “Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness),” a rendition that sees the band take on the Swing genre. Full of Big Band percussion and sultry vocals, it wouldn’t be The Raconteurs without some genre-blending, which is why there is also a harmonica and ’70s Brit guitar. Keeping things flowing smoothly and equally fun, “Sunday Driver” is like ZZ Top meets the Magical Mystery Tour-era of The Beatles. By this time “Now That You’re Gone” hit with the stunning realization that not once during the album has the music ever veered anywhere near boring. Instead, it remains full of intrigue through the most straight-forward song on the record, “Live A Lie.” A repetitious Punk-like track, it is hard not to envision mohawks, spiky collars, and Union Jacks while listening.
The penultimate track, “What’s Yours Is Mine,” is a Funk-y, Grunge-y piece that puts the percussion front and center while things slow down and speed up in sludgy Psychedelic fashion. Like “Only Child,” this song has five or six passages that deserve to be fleshed out into their own songs, but again, there is something to be said about the band’s restraint to overdue it. Which leads us to the end where “Thoughts and Prayers” closes things out with a purely Americana feel that employs banjo and cello on top of acoustic guitar to great effect while the band roars until the final note.
In an era where 300 new hours of videos and music are uploaded to YouTube every single minute, the industry has been saturated with cut-and-paste less than stellar material that diminishes the art as a whole. Fortunately, The Raconteurs are back to usher us into a new era of musical possibilities. Something that should surely put them in the running to win a Grammy, and for helping push the genre, industry, and art as a whole, Cryptic Rock gives Help Us Stranger 5 out of 5 stars.
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