Friday, July 30, 2010

390. Elephant. Jack White's early attempts to save Rock and Roll.

Album: Elephant
Artist: The White Stripes
Year: 2003
Genre: Rock

  1. Seven Nation Army
  2. Black Math
  3. There's No Home for You Here
  4. I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself
  5. In the Cold, Cold Night
  6. I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart
  7. You've Got Her in Your Pocket
  8. Ball and Biscuit
  9. The Hardest Button to Button
  10. Little Acorns
  11. Hypnotize
  12. The Air Near My Fingers
  13. Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
  14. It's True That We Love One Another
  15. Who's to Say
  16. Good to Me

You have to love the idea of the White Stripes even if you don't enjoy their music. Two people (who may or not have been married or related) decided to record albums of music using only outdated analogue equipment. They formed a band and didn't bother to include a bass player. They took their influences from all over the musical spectrum and defied anyone to put them into a box. Although if they were to be put in a box they'd ensure the carton in question was red, white and black- their signature colour scheme which dominates all their album covers, video clips and stage sets. They were a tri-chrome pair of ambiguously-related sixties throwbacks who used old stuff to make new music. How can you not love them?

The answer is: easily. There are lots of people who hate the white stripes and you can see why. Jack's voice isn't what you'd call approachable. His singing sounds like he's laying down demo tracks after a long party. His guitar playing is squeaky, distorted and not just all over the shop it's all over the extensive mall complex with parking facilities. Meg White's drumming is adequate and her voice is a total contrast to Jack's. While he sings like he doesn't give a stuff she sounds like she's incredibly nervous about the final outcome. If you're the sort of person who likes music accessible and beautiful the White Stripes are definitely not your cup of tea (raspberry tea presumably, served in a white cup on a black saucer).

Personally I really like Jack and Meg and I've taken this album as an opportunity to try and work out why. What is it about them that I respond to? Is it the White Stripes I like or the idea of the White Stripes? We now know all about their relationship (they married in 1996, he took her surname name and kept it when they divorced in 2000) but for years the media was still trying to unearth the real facts about their claim to be siblings. I have to confess I really loved the idea that the celebrity obsessed media was completely stumped by two young musicians from Detroit who confused them for years. I like the idea that they can't be compared to any other band (except possibly The Velvet Underground but only because they've both got female drummers who can't really sing) and there's something about Jack White's reverence for the distant past that appeals to me. But does their music actually live up to the myth they've created around themselves?

Yes. Yes it does.

Elephant is a great album and it doesn't hold it's greatness back, it's quite happy to reveal it in the opening seconds of the first track. Seven Nation Army has a fantastic riff that came in a decade when you would assume all the great riffs has already been written. It's instantly catchy and gets stuck in your head in a happy way. If you know the song you're singing it in your head now. And while there are other bands who can write a good riff but then have no idea what to do with it Jack uses it as a launchpoint for a great song. The beat has you nodding your head and the track motors along with perfectly judged peaks and troughs. It's a great track and I enjoy it all the more knowing that the riff was written in The Corner Hotel in Melbourne, Australia a city I'm proud to call my home. It's slightly pathetic to point out connections like this but there is precious little that's Australian in this countdown so you have to cling to whatever you can.

Thankfully the rest of the album proves that White is a long way from a one-tricky pony. Ball and Biscuit is a magnificent blues track, I just don't know what to do with myself is a fantastic Bacharach cover, There's no home for you here girl go away is a vicious dismissal song and The Cold Cold night is actually a lovely song that suits Meg's voice. Those who hate the White Stripes' harsh edges would be well advised to check out You've Got Her in Your Pocket, a gentle acoustic ballad which proves Jack can write a song quiet music as well as he does noisy. I'm sure some producer somewhere has heard this track and realized it's potential as a career launching point for some female balladeer with a beautiful voice and looks to match. There's barely a dud track on the album and even the last few moments, which are usually reserved for filler, bristle with killer moments. My favourite track of the album is possibly The Air Near My Fingers which frollicks along with some great lyrics and even a tasty organ solo.

Jack White has decided to save modern rock and roll and frankly he's doing a great job. The White Stripes are just one of the great band's he's formed. He's one of the most exciting voices in modern rock and I look forward to hearing what he can produce in the future.

Highlight: Seven Nation Army
Lowlight: Little Acorns

Influenced by: The Blues and analog equipment.
Influenced: Lots of bands who fell in love with guitars again

Favourite Amazon Customer Review Quote: "Finally, something that's better then the others. But yet you ask; "Why give it one star?" Well, it SUCKS!!! Yes, it SUCKS!!! Those other C.D.'s by this artist SUCK even MORE!!! And I hear Jack White received an award for best guitar from MTV... Clearly, those people are out of their minds, and probably don't know what good guitar sounds like. And, why does Meg always use those cymbals? And, as a bassist/guitarist, I find it somewhat stupid that they don't hire a full-time bassist. It's also a bit "insulting."

-That's fantastic. A bassist backlash against the White Stripes. I love the idea of something that can make the least passionate member of ever rock band get angry and riled up. "I was so furious about the white stripes insult to bassists everywhere that last week when I was onstage I moved a few feet away from my amp in protest"

So are you insulted by the White Stripes lack of a bassist who glad that music is finally being liberated from it's dependence on the four-stringed menace? Let me know below.

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