“It was baby steps—we didn’t say, hey, we’re going to make an album or go on tour,” The Raconteurs co-frontman Jack White explains to Apple Music’s Zane Lowe. “We just thought, let’s get together and record a couple of songs and see how that goes.” The time felt right for White and Brendan Benson to reconnect following a series of jam sessions with drummer Patrick Keeler, something they hadn’t done in over a decade due to their commitments to other projects. During that time, White pursued his solo career and formed The Dead Weather with Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence, all while running Third Man Records; Benson launched his own record label and released 2012’s What Kind of World and 2013’s You Were Right.
Though their third album touches on the power-pop stomp of Broken Boy Soldiers and the country-folk of Consolers of the Lonely, the band now seems to have one mission in mind: Play some good ol’ fashioned classic rock that pays homage to their musical roots. White and Benson are both based in Nashville now, but their native Michigan is never far from their hearts. “Well, I’m Detroit born and raised/But these days, I’m living with another,” White and Benson harmonize on the single “Bored and Razed.” The guitars nod to pioneering Michigan bands like Grand Funk Railroad and The Amboy Dukes, while the scuzzy, frantic Stooges-like garage rock of “Don’t Bother Me” features White, unsurprisingly, imploring you to put down your damn phone.
But Help Us Stranger is not just strut and swagger: From reflective folk rock (“Only Child”) and piano balladry (“Shine the Light on Me”) to heartbreaking blues (“Now That You’re Gone”), White and Benson keep it fresh with their engaging, mood-shifting songwriting. They sound like they’re genuinely having fun, happy that they’re still together after all these years. “We played a show in London with The Strokes, and what struck me was, 'Ah, it’s so great to see any band have the original members they started with even three years later, let alone 15, 20 years later,'” says White. “Everyone’s for the same goal of trying to make some sort of music happen that didn’t exist before. But the proof is, those same people are in the room together.”