Jack White does not own a mobile phone. He says he never has and never will, to avoid falling under the “addiction” driven by “competition, voyeurism and jealousy”. He has never known the dizzying rush of a tasty drop on Candy Crush, the maddening bewilderment of 89 unread WhatsApp messages of a group chat attempting to arrange a basic function, the morbid curiosity of a friend’s inebriated karaoke over blurry arena gig Insta stories; nor will he ever hear music through the tinny rattle of loose airpods as he navigates his way through the Spotify algorithm’s black hole.
It’s safe to assume then that ‘Help Us Stranger’, the first record from White and Brendan Benson’s supergroup The Raconteurs in over a decade, is very much an analogue record for digital times. Grab your gramophone, drop the needle, and enjoy this old school slab of rock in the fullest and most human manner as it was intended.
From the off with the rambling, open-road anthemics of ‘Bored And Razed’, there’s a groove, a richness and studded leather boot kick that would sit comfortably among those Eagles, Led Zep and Creedence Clearwater Revival jukebox classics. When they described this album as “the rock n’ roll album you’ve been waiting for”, that’s probably because it’s very much a return to straight-up, bluesy, feel good, radio rock of their early work and The White Stripes’ breakthrough material – rather than White’s madcap experimental meanderings on his bold and brilliant 2018 solo effort ‘Boarding House Reach’. ‘Help Me Stranger’ does go a little off-kilter at times though; with a joyous jazzy cover of Donovan’s ‘Hey Gyp (Dig The Slowness)’, the filthy stop-start garage funk of ‘What Yours Is Mine’ and on the playful vocals and firecracker riffery of ‘Don’t Bother Me’ as White squarks for a “ruthless rule-bender”.
The record would benefit from a few more of the jarring left-turns that we’ve come to love White for, but it’s with Benson, Dead Weather bandmate Jack Lawrence and The Greenhornes’ drummer Patrick Keeler that he’s managed to steady the wheel for a smooth but pleasurable drive. There’s a free and easy lightness to the dual harmonies on the title track and the tongue-in-cheek country ballad ‘Only Child’, a comforting familiarity to the latter-day Beatles textures on soulful piano-led ‘Shine A Light On Me’, and proof of the beauty of restraint in the tender bluegrass of heartbreaking closer ‘Thoughts And Prayers’. It’s not a record for your phone or for cherry-picking for playlists. It’s a full-bodied album and a journey – a journey we hope it doesn’t take them another decade to make again. Hopefully Jack’s telegram reaches his bandmates a little quicker next time.