Rock fans are getting longer attention spans. Within a decade of Bob Dylan hitting stores, the future nobel laureate was struggling to keep the public’s attention. Rod Stewart may have kept pumping out hits into the late 70s, but it wasn’t long after his 1972 breakthrough album Every Picture Tells A Story that people were already making fun of him as too old and a has been. Sure, we all love Into The Great Wide Open now, but the 80s weren’t so kind to Tom Petty and that record was thus dubbed “a comeback.” But here we are 20 years after The White Stripes’ debut album and people are still mad about Jack White.
I’ll be up front about this: I haven’t kept tabs on White. I don’t think I’ve listened to anything he’s been involved in since that 2010 Dead Weather album. White Blood Cells, Get Behind Me Satan, and even the controversial Icky Thump were all albums I adored, but the primary thing forging my opinion of Jack White in 2019 is that he sells a $25 patch cable at Third Man Records, which I just find egregious.
So while I can’t place Help Us Stranger in the wider context of the Jack White discography, I can safely say that it stands well on its own merits. Its blend of folk and good old hard rock is exactly what you’d hope and expect from a new Raconteurs album. From the opening riff on “Bored and Razed” to the last whimper of a vocal line on “Thoughts and Prayers,” Help Us Stranger delivers on that intense mandolin infused rock and roll.
It’s not bluesy like I want it to be. Once upon a time Jack White’s great influences were Son House and Robert Johnson, but Help Us Stranger feels more like Led Zeppelin III than an electric Leadbelly album. With the exception of “Hey Gyp,” which is very much in the school of the North Mississippi All Stars recent blues revival, all of Help Us Stranger feels like it’s borrowing more from the early 70s than any other style. On my 2nd listen I started to hear a lot of Nils Lofgren in this album. Perhaps it’s White’s vocals, but the arrangement on “Shine A Light On Me” in particular felt very much like a lost track from Lofgren’s early 70s band Grin.
The Raconteur’s first album in 11 years is definitely a proper one, with everything you would hope and expect from Jack White’s recent works embodied in it. It is available now on CD, vinyl, and MP3 download.
Elizabeth von Teig is a musician and author living in Brighton, Massachusetts. Her expertise is classic rock, folk punk, and the blues.