THE RACONTEURS burst on to the hard rock scene with 2006's "Broken Boy Soldiers", a pivotal moment for co-founder Jack White. Just one year later, the final WHITE STRIPES album was released. While this turning point for White is obvious viewing things in the rearview mirror, THE RACONTEURS initially came across as a side project to capture his obviously broad-spanning creativity, which had a limited opportunity to shine within the decidedly narrow, linear scope of WHITE STRIPES. The groove-based, rhythmic stomp of WHITE STRIPES was an effective celebration of minimalism, but — by intentional design — the format was not conducive as an ongoing avenue for White's immense talent.
THE RACONTEURS actually seemed like a flash in the pan even a few years ago. "Broken Boy Soldiers" and follow-up "Consolers of the Lonely" were their only original recordings, and they were released just two years apart. Intermittent shows dotted the period of time since then, but what was once deemed a hiatus eventually appeared to become an inevitable disbanding. In any event, THE RACONTEURS have resurfaced with their third album. Not only has the wait been worth it for the existing fanbase, but "Help Us Stranger" proves to be one of 2019's best rock albums.
With "Help Us Stranger", it truly feels as though THE RACONTEURS is where White needs to be right now. White has split his time for the better part of the last decade with THE DEAD WEATHER's more focused rock — not drastically unlike THE RACONTEURS in terms of sound — as well as with his solo records that were enjoyable at points, albeit misguided and lacking direction for the most part. "Help Us Stranger" carries the torch they lit on THE RACONTEURS' first album. White's seventies-inspired riffs are danceable without losing an ounce of fortitude, tempered and guided to perhaps even more pop-like terrain by his writing cohort Brendan Benson.
"Bored and Razed" opens things with a steroid-injected take on sixties/seventies hard rock. "Live a Lie", meanwhile, is essentially their take on punk rock. There's a majestic quality inherent to White's guitar playing that's evident throughout his career, but it has taken a life of its own on "Help Us Stranger". His work on the final cut, "Thoughts and Prayers", is utterly elegant and bold. And it works.
"Help Us Stranger" is the best example of a hard rock album that's contemporary yet referential, rooted and inspired by the classic hard rock era. THE RACONTEURS succeed where GRETA VAN FLEET prove to be a failure built upon a foundation of hype. Sure, it isn't likely that THE RACONTEURS will be revered to the extent of the likes of LED ZEPPELIN, but they very well may be the best seventies rock-inspired active rock band around today.