The White Stripes
the problems in hand are lighter than at heart
Seven Nation Army
There’s No Home for You Here
I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself
Cold, Cold Night
I Want to Be With the Boy
You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket
Ball and Biscuit
The Hardest Button to Button
The Air Near My Fingers
Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
It’s True that We Love One Another
The future was wide open for the White Stripes when White Blood Cells broke into popular music in 2002. Loud, honest, and as hard working as the UAW, the candy-striped couple ground a permanent footprint into the face of rock and roll. They had certainly stepped out of their “Little Room”. Now that they’ve set up in the bigger room, the question is “what will they do with all that space?”
The answer from the new album, Elephant, is play louder, harder, and more. Anyone fearing a poppy transition from the straight-up blues-rock of previous albums, as I was, will be thrilled at how well this album fits into the progression of the band’s previous work. This is Detroit rock (whatever that means) and the average song length is still around the three minute mark, just as you would expect. But now it is turned up to eleven.
everyone knows about it
from the Queen of England to the Hounds of Hell
Of course, it is not without some surprises along the way. Seven Nation Army opens the album with… a bass line? Damn straight. I love an album that starts off with a satori. The stripped down guitar-and-drumkit duo kick you in the eye with an opening bass line which is actually Jack on a guitar run through an octave pedal.
Lyrically, this album deals with familiar themes. Jack’s melodramatic croonings on love’s frustrations are the focus of almost every song. References to home, school, mothers, and other adolescent images abound. I’m not a fan of using rock and roll songs as a vehicle for analysis of the creator’s inner thoughts. If you are, there are already plenty of reviews of this album that give Jack a psychoanalytical hand job.
I had opinions that didn’t matter
I had a brain that felt like pancake batter
The lyrics are remarkable for their skewed honesty and scabbed-over poetry. The songs are shouted at you in plain words and when they end you feel as if Jack has turned and walked away without regard for your response. The tone is true to the Detroit clubs where applause is a foreign luxury. Bands play hard and leave; there are no encores.
We don’t know you
And we don’t owe you
But if you see us around
I got somethin’ else to show you
Instant favorites are on the album include “Little Acorns” and “Cold, Cold, Night”, Meg’s vocal premier. Her voice is a carries a no-bullshit beauty as she lays out the words with a simple melody. As with her drumming, her strength is in simplicity.
I know that you feel it too
When my skin turns into glue
While the blues rock tradition is strong, there is a lot of variety here. Tracks to make note of are “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”, a cover of a Burt Bacharach tune originally sung by Dusty Springfield, and track 14, which is a call-and-response three-way between Jack, Meg, and Holly Golightly. “You know that we love one another” pays tribute to the roots of rock and blues in the same way that Your Southern Can is Mine does on De Stijl. Jack goes melancholy on a couple slower tracks like the McCartney-esque “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” and makes an edgy tribute to the sound of Queen on “There’s No Home for You Here”.
Picking favorites is never easy, but “The Hardest Button to Button” combines the fake-bass from the opening track, low volume tension, and unexplainable lyrics that make for the kind of foot stomping fun of “Hotel Yorba” on the previous album. On the other end of the spectrum, “Hypnotize”, seemingly the sequal to “Fell in Love with a Girl”, rocks heavy but doesn’t explore much new ground. Overall, Elephant is another step in smooth gait towards rock and roll Valhalla for the White Stripes.