The White Stripes
The White Stripes are an overrated band in my opinion. They rode in on a wave of hype and coasted on it long after their ability to craft good songs lasted. Their ability to re-write the songs and styles of 60’s and 70’s rock music is interesting in its own right, but they lack the originality or foresight of a great blues-revival band (Los Lobos, Black Keys, Royal Trux, Jon Spencer, Morphine, many others). All that said, you would think I hate this band? No, I don’t actually, they have some entertaining material. Being overrated is not the same as being bad. Plenty of their songs- “Fell in Love With a Girl”, “Black Math”, “Jimmy the Exploder”, “Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise”, etc.- rank among the best released by any rock band in the 00’s. The difference between this band and other great bands of their era is simple: The White Stripes are a wildly inconsistent album band (for those people that care about such things). No one really agrees on their best album, which can be a bad sign. In my opinion though, they depend unwisely on non-music qualities: inside jokes from movies/culture, filler album tracks, geographical location, a shrouded personal life, etc. I don’t hate the band at all, but they would rank somewhere below literally HUNDEREDS of other rock in roll artists of the 2000’s alone in terms of artistic resonance.
Jack White – guitar, vocals
Meg White – percussion
Best Album: De Stijl
Biggest Influences: The Kinks, Paul McCartney, Pixies, Jon Spencer, The Make Up
1999 – (3 / 5) − The White Stripes
2000 – (4.5 / 5) − De Stijl
2001 – (4 / 5) − White Blood Cells
2003 – (3 / 5) − Elephant
2005 – (1 / 5) − Get Behind Me Satan
2007 – (2 / 5) Icky Thump
White Stripes – (3 / 5)
The debut by The White Stripes is a nice, familiar slice of 1960’s garage influenced rock. This is a decent debut, though it hardly warrants much as much attention as it gets by many critics. I’ll put it like this- If White Stripes were a local band I would be impressed, but how they stood out from the crowd enough to get a record deal, I don’t know. The record starts off with a lot of charm: “Jimmy the Revalator” hits you with enough force to make an impression, and it’s filled with enough guitar tricks to warrant attention in the blues rock circuit. The record quickly becomes monotonous though and one’s attention fades into obscurity while listening. Scattered throughout the album, the group occasionally wake you up with up-tempo tracks like “Broken Bricks” or “Little People”, but then you realize there isn’t much to those songs either and you fall back asleep. To cover Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan is hardly a bold move or anything, it’s actually quite a “safe” move because those are well respected artists; standard covers for a standard band. The good songs are scattered about the seventeen tunes- tracks like “Do”, “Cannon”, and “The Big Three Killed My Baby”, are great, enjoyable rock songs, though the opener “Jimmy the Exploder” is easily the best thing on here. I would even go as far as to say “Stop Breaking Down” is a better cover than the Rolling stones do on Exile on Main Street! Sadly, no matter how you cut it, the rest of the album is a chore to wade through for most, half of these 17 songs being nothing of interest musically. The inside jokes about Tesla/Edison and incorporating “John the Revalator” in to a song are hardly reasons to come back, and if the band wants staying power they are going to need diversity in between songs. Still, the die hard White Stripes fan would find some to like on the debut.
Greatest Songs: Jimmy the Exploder, Do, Little People, Cannon
De Stijl – (4.5 / 5)
On the second album, the band has honed their songwriting skills and made the tightest and best album of their career. Sure, it is derivative as hell in 1960’s pop music, but it is incorporated in ways that pay respect to the elders of the past. Confidence seeps through on songs like “Hello Operator” (with nice drum clicks, how exactly did they make that work?) and the Hendrix guitars of “Little Bird” (not ‘little wing’ heh) that was simply not there before. A keen pop sensibility comes in, borrowed from The Kinks, on tracks such as “I’m Bound to Pack it Up” and “Your Pretty Good Looking”. Also the rock quotient is still there on “Let’s Build a Home”, the cover of “Death Letter”, “Why Can’t You Be Nice to Me”, and the superb “Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise”, the best song of the band’s career so far. This song alone makes the album worth getting, a lyrical, smoldering blues pop track that comes along only by a pure genre master, which White proves himself to be on this record. Then you have the opener and closer, the former being a brilliant pop moment form a band who showcases their diversity and the latter being an old fashion romp a la “Bron-yr-Stomp” by Led Zeppelin (also sampled is “Over the Hills and Far Away” in “Why Can’t You be Nicer to Me”, check out those similar power chords). Minor quibbles: “A Boy’s Best Friend” doesn’t work as a ballad and “Jumble Jumble” fails as a rocker, but most of the music worth a look on De Stijl. This record established The White Stirpes as a powerhouse of blues rock and it musically laid the groundwork for Jack White’s entire career.
Greatest Songs: Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise, Why Can’t You Be Nicer To Me, Little Bird, You’re Pretty Good Looking For A Girl
White Blood Cells – (4 / 5)
White Blood Cells is the band’s 3rd released record though it plays more like their sophomore release, which confuses the career of the band even more. It finds them in a transitional phase where they excel at making ballads and of rockers, proof in the excellent but gentle Kinks’ influenced ”We’re Going to Be Friends”; the elegant riffing of “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”; the storytelling via lead guitar of “Offend in Every Way”. Meg White has also matured as a drummer, offering solid rhythm support on several songs where it sounds unusually full for two people. Unfortunately, the record is too long and still suffers from to many songs that come off as filler. The band had fixed its problem of inside jokes and dull songs on De Stijl, but here they return to it far too often (“The Union Forever” references Citizen Kane in many obvious ways). There are some remarkably catchy songs in the first four tracks, but they either sound derivative of themselves throughout the record (“Dead Leaves” sounds identical to “I’m Finding it Hard to Be a Gentlemen”) or derivative of other rock bands (“Fell in Love with a Girl” is pure Pixies, “I Can’t Wait” echoes Nirvana, “I Think I Smell a Rat” is Violent Femmes, etc). It’s an internal war within Jack White where he kind decide if he wants to be Frank Black or Paul McCartney. I always expect someone to start singing “one sweeet dream/came true/today” after the verse in “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”, stolen from the suite in Abbey Road. To point out all of the rip offs or homages is pointless, because despite the lack of originality this is still a pretty solid listen (especially if you stop listening after song # 10). Entertaining and catchy as always, the band has yet to make a bad record. This album brought the band a lot of success, and proved their sound could be a major breakthrough back when the radio waves were full of awful boy-bands Backstreet Boys and nu metal acts like Limp Biskit. SO I say that White Blood Cells is a good little record, despite all of the filler that keep it what it could have been – a great EP.
Greatest Songs: I’m Finding It Harder to Be A Gentlemen These Days, Offend in Every Way, I Can’t Wait, Fell In Love With A Girl
Elephant – (3 / 5)
Elephant proves, without a doubt to anyone who listens with open ears that The White Stripes are all about simple ideas. When the simple ideas work, such as openers “Seven Nation Army” and “Balck Math”, it is a brilliant display of how pop rock can work within the well-established confines of Jon Spencer’s blues rock (these songs are pure Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, in fact I keep expecting someone to scream “blues explosion mannnn” in the middle somewhere). When they don’t work, they sound like a White Stripes song you have heard on a previous record, because Jack White only has so many melodic tricks at his disposal. Some examples: Is “There’s No Home for You Here” the same song as “Dead Leaves and Dirty Ground”? Is “I Want to be the Boy to Warm Your Mothers Heart” the same song as “Same Boy You’ve Always Known”? Is “The Hardest Button” the same as “Seven Nation Army”?
I ask these questions because beyond the first two tracks, there is not a truly great song on this album, and an album played as artifice does not hold up in the years to come. Some are passable- “Hardest Button to Button”, “Air Near My Fingers”, and “Little Acorns” are decent mainstream rock radio staples, but a little simple minded. Look at a band like Creedence Clearwater Revival; obviously those songs sound similar on their records but with great melodic ideas they still work. Without them though, all of the songs sound the same and stale. It is pointless to compare Elephant to the works of other bands or influences, because White has now began to become a parody of himself, and that is a very dangerous road to travel. Never mind building a career on it.
Greatest Songs: Seven Nation Army, Black Math
Get Behind Me Satan – (1 / 5)
One of the most annoying songs of all time – “My Doorbell”
Greatest Songs: The Denial Twist
Icky Thump – (2 / 5)
Better than the last album, still kind of a mess though.
Greatest Songs: Icky Thump, Little Cream Soda