The White Stripes
White Blood Cells
Some 13 years after its release, I look back at an album that not only made a huge musical impact- but saw the rise of one of the biggest bands of our time. With a huge support (already behind them), Detroit’s black, red and white duo released something truly staggering.
IN a new (and regular) series, I am going to be investigating albums…
that can be considered ‘modern classics’. Some of them you may own; some you may have forgotten about, but my intention is to lend fresh praise and tribute to albums I deem truly timeless. You may not agree with my choices, and for that reason, it would be great to hear some suggestions- for albums I can include. Tomorrow I start work on a review for a new Edinburgh-based band; one whom I feel invokes the spirit of Punk truly- and have a huge future ahead of them. As great and important as new music is, I always find myself looking back; spinning albums and acts whom- although they may be gone- live long in the memory. It is important to keep their memories alive, and not forget what has come before. As much as anything, certain bands and artists have been responsible for influencing a great deal of modern players- for that, we should respect them. Today, I investigate an album (from a band) whom not only set alive the music world in the ’90s and ’00s, but were responsible for the new wave of Garage Rock bands that came through in that period. Without further ado, let me introduce them…
Most of you are probably aware of The White Stripes. They are a duo whom appealed to the masses; not just relegated to certain clans and camps- their music connected with everyone. A few years ago, they hung up their band patterns and called it today- but not without leaving behind a huge legacy. The duo consisted of Meg and Jack White, and formed in Detroit in 1997. Before I introduce you to their music, let me clear up a few things. As well as a brilliant palette and kinship, our Michigan two-piece had some unique quirks. Well, I say ‘quirks’; there was a clear uniformity (enforced by Jack), that separated them from their peers. The duo wore black, white and red and no other colours; White (fascinated by the number 3) insisted on their behind three instrumental sonic components -voice, guitar and drums. Extending this theory, the band had another key distinction: they were brother and sister. Well, technically they weren’t, but a myth and story was perpetrated to the media: one which would avoid any questions about their personal lives. In actuality, the two married in 1996 (Jack took Meg’s surname), before divorcing several years later. Jack was keen for the press to focus on the music, fearful that the duo’s marriage would take prescience- as such they became brother and sister. What made The White Stripes such a distinctive act was their lo-fi approach to recording; they fused ’20s and ’30s Blues music, and sprinkled in of-the-moment Rock. When the band formed (in 1997), the music industry was still transitioning from the death of Grunge. With acts such as Nirvana defunct, there were still band such as Pearl Jam and Soundgarden pioneering, yet the scene was on its last leg. The music-buying public were eager to embrace new idols; to find something fresh and direct- the duo provided this. Jack White (born Jack Gillis) was a former upholsterer, whilst Meg was a bartender. “The White Stripes began their career as part of the Michigan underground garage rock scene, playing with local bands such as Bantam Rooster, The Dirtbombs, The Paybacks, and Rocket 455. The White Stripes was signed to Italy Records, a small and Detroit-based garage punk label, in 1998 by Dave Buick. Buick approached them at a bar and asked if they would like to record a single for the label. Jack White initially declined, but eventually reconsidered“. Detroit, as it is today, is a bit of a desolate and ravaged ghost town, but during the late-’90s played host to some hungry and diverse bands. The White Stripes’ formative steps were tentative and soft, yet they were grabbing the attention of the local scene. Whilst a lot of the bands of the time were mere point-and-squirt purveyors; concerned with sheer racket- our Detroit duo prompted something different. The contemporary bands were being inspired by modern sounds and of-the-moment acts, whereas The White Stripes looked back. Growing up, Jack was fascinated by old Blues masters such as Son House, Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson. As well as the classic Blues acts, Led Zeppelin, The Velvet Underground and The Stooges were all big idols- White incorporated all these elements into the band’s music. These combinations and elements came to fruition self-titled debut. With the century nearing its end, The White Stripes was a fitting music way to end it- and was to see the first steps for a soon-to-be-legendary band. Surmising the album, Allmusic had this to say:
“Jack White’s voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of slide and subtle solo work… Meg White balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal, bass drum and snare… All D.I.Y. -country-blues-metal singer/songwriting duos should sound this good.”
With Jack White (whom was the band’s chief songwriter) at the producer’s helm (alongside Jim Diamond), an evocative and stunning L.P. was unleashed. It was the ‘D.I.Y.’ sound that, perhaps, gives it its stripes (forgive the pun!). It is as though you are sitting in Jack’s house as you listen (a lot of it was, in fact). The fact that it sounds more like a live recording- as opposed to a studio-recorded one- for me, makes it so special. Critics at the time were a little split, and for that reason, The White Stripes is one of those albums that reveals its majesties after time. Those whom were turned onto the band’s wonders extolled the virtues of the raw sound; the updated Blues sound- as well as the urgency and conviction in the band’s performances. The debut saw some fresh and wonderful original material, but also saw the band’s interpretative skills displayed. Bob Dylan’s One More Cup of Coffee turned into a malevolent calling to the underworld- Jack’s voice drips with emotion and foreboding. Robert Johnson’s Stop Breaking Down is a bouncy and energised reworking; St. James Infirmary Blues was transformed into a sweeping and emotional number. Although there were some rough edges (Astro and Screwdriver seem a bit rushed-off and forgettable), White was demonstrating a songwriting talent, that was to mark him out as one of the busiest and most vibrant talents of the last 20 years. Wasting My Time and The Big Three Killed My Baby are sneering anthems; wrapped around Meg’s assured drum work and Jack’s tantalising guitar. The seeds were planted and Detroit’s finest new band were showing their contemporaries how it should be done. White Blood Cells would arrive two years later (in 2001); but The White Stripes had another L.P. to come first. Showing a breathless work ethic, De Stijl arrived less than a year after their debut. Inspired by the Dutch art movement (called ‘the style’), the L.P. saw Jack cementing the band’s triple-coloured aesthetic. The sound of their sophomore effort was less rambunctious and grittier (than on their debut), but more concentrated. With fewer ‘filler’ tracks, the album could be seen as a logical and progressive step forward- although many critics felt it did not match the heights of The White Stripes. When reviewing De Stijl, Rolling Stone had this to say:
“The second album by the Detroit couple, De Stijl, is feisty and clever, full of scuzzy garage rock that would fit nicely on a Nuggets compilation between the Sonics and the Standells“.
The wave of positive press that followed the album’s release, saw Jack and Meg filled with confidence- as well as a host of new fans. When you consider the work on their 2nd album, it is no surprise it was met with acclaim. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl) is a springing number that meets ’60s Pop bounce with legendary Blues. Whilst the songs themes look at a girl who’s “back is so broken“, it is a charming and memorable number, that was a terrific lead-off track. Let’s Build a Home and Jumble, Jumble are free-falling songs infused with enormous rush- Jack’s guitar work is varied and evocative; Meg’s drumming powerful and emphatic. It was during the album, that the softer side of Jack White was coming out. The debut hinted at the tenderness inside of the man (tracks such as Suzy Lee are fine examples)- but it was on De Stijl that White began to vary his songwriting. Apple Blossom is a charming and child-like love song; Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise is an epic yet brave defence of (a shy and withdrawn) girlfriend; I’m Bound To Pack It Up saw the young American as the modern embodiment of Son House. Both players were becoming more fully rounded and confident; Jack was growing as a songwriter, and showing himself to be one of the most talented artists on the block. As good as Meg’s drumming was, White, the maestro, was growing in stature. His voice was becoming more focused and individual; able to belt and snap as well as implore and seduce. The guitar work was authoritative and nuanced, and a legendary band were fully taking shape. With the album showing itself as a fan favourite- and with critical support behind them- the Detroit pioneers were abound with confidence come the end of 2001. With Garage Rock’s revival gaining momentum, its forerunners were mounting a charge, and on the cusp of releasing their most potent statement: White Blood Cells.
It is perhaps appropriate that White Blood Cells begins with a bang. With a slight percussive tapping, proceedings explode with a rictus guitar parable. Summoning up a hailstorm of electricity it is a buzzing and pulsating intro., augmented by Meg’s clattering and impassioned drum work. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground is an emphatic and potent opening statement. Here, Jack is in yearning mood; pining and waiting for someone to return. The track is awash with emotive outpouring; striking images and a whole lot of conviction. Mixing tender confessions (“If I could just hear your pretty voice/I don’t think I need to see at all“) with oblique sentiment (“If you can hear a piano fall/you can hear me coming down the hall“), the song really catches you. The White Stripes unleash a tough and mobile composition which fuses urgent rushes and softer moments. In Dead Leaves’ we see Jack put his heart on his sleeve. Whilst longing for his love, White’s mind drifts back (“Soft hair and a velvet tongue/I want to give you what you give to“); whomever he is talking about (their absence) is causing a hole in his heart. You get the impression of White returning to a house; yet finding it empty he sits and wonders; waiting for company and salvation. Although the vocal performance is strong-headed and determined, you cannot escape the poetry and tribute that our hero conveys. The song’s heart-aching messages are succinctly represented in the lines “I didn’t feel so bad till the sun went down/Then I come home/No one to wrap my arms around“- you can hear the aching in his voice. After the stunning opening salvo, the pace and subject is changed. Whereas a lot of bands (including the duo themselves did on their debut) would opt for a similar-sounding or flavoured track, Jack and Meg subvert expectations. There is no yearning and absent souls to be heard on Hotel Yorba– some empty ones, but not in a romantic ones. A springing and lilting acoustic guitar coda opens proceedings (a pleasing shift from the forcefulness of Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’s intro.); one which puts an instant smile on your face. Initial moments see our hero in a rush; he is being bustled and harried by life (“I had fifteen people telling me to move/I got moving on my mind“). In spite of the vivid scenarios, there is always a lightness and (perhaps ironic) joy in White’s voice. Meg’s drumming is loose and playful, allowing the song’s messages to come to life- as well as adding an urgency to proceedings. With our hero in nursery rhyme mode (“Well its 1 2 3 4/Take the elevator“), White is with his beauty, on the steps of Hotel Yorba; not fearful of rejection, because: (“All they got inside is vacancy“). It is a song that sticks its tongue out at the disreputable establishment. We can all imagine the type of discarded and alarming hovel that White had in mind; sly grins and smiles can be heard when the lines are delivered. The song has a sing along quality that is hard to ignore, but it much more layered and nuanced than any throwaway Pop number. White’s talent for wordplay and scene-setting are all evident, as he mixes faux romantic confessions with childlike innocence (“Let’s get married/In a big cathedral by a priest/’cause if i’m the man that you love the most/You could say ‘I do’ at least“). As the song comes to an end, it completes a stunning (and varied) 1-2- and one that covers a heap of territory in only a few minutes. The first four tracks blend short and memorable bursts with longer and more ‘sprawling’ numbers. Continuing the pattern, I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman spreads its wings. White surveys manners and the breakdown of etiquette; delivered in his inimitable and cutting way. Building several different scenarios, our hero is acting the gentleman; irked at distractions in his head (“You think that I care/About me and only me/When every single girl needs help/Climbing up a tree“). Perhaps the intentions aren’t allows honourable; the thoughts always pure (“Well I’m finding it hard to say/That I need you twenty times a day“); it is a song that allows our hero to unleash his emotions; to get our his anger- whether based on real-life malaise or fiction, I am not sure. Whereas Hotel Yorba had a similar cut to its tongue, I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman is longer and more detailed; less concerned with urgency and (perhaps memorability), it is a stunning number. Bait-and-switch perhaps, but for those expecting another I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman are soon surprised. After a second track that was short and direct, we have a fourth track that is similarly truncated. Fell in Love with a Girl arrives, and was to become one of the most celebrated songs of the album. The song is barely two minutes long, but gains its status because the pace never relents- from start to finish it is fast and furious. Filled with Punk energy, it is a compacted explosion of romance, miscommunication and misappropriation. After falling for the girl, White has doubts (“She’s in love with the world/But sometimes these feelings/Can be so misleading“); the red-haired temptress is leading him astray. Trying to assuage White’s anxiety she assures him that Bobby (her beau) says kissing isn’t cheating, and to relax; whereas our hero is conflicted (“These two sides of my brain/Need to have a meeting“). Aware that it is not romance, but a temporary thing (“She’s just looking for something new“), White’s brain is melting and bursting in the heat of the situation. You can feel the primal urges and frustrations come through in the repeated “Ahhh aha ahhh ah“; the rampaging percussion and rampant guitar augment and emphasis the mood- it is a paragon of frustrated lust and second-guessing. After the short burst (as you would expect) comes a song that is not brief, but, like Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (the two songs share a similar sound and pace); it is persevering and imploring. Whereas previous numbers have perhaps been more direct, Expecting is slightly more oblique and open to interpretation. With a crawling and striking guitar smash (and impressive percussion), the track smashes and retreats (and repeat); scoring a tale of a imbalanced love, a relationship that sees our hero trapped (“Your mouth said this never/But your fingers have shown me/Your head is so clever…”). With a motif based around give and take (and the unfair share of either), White distills the essence of the relationship: “I’m expected/You’re expecting“. Love and fractured relationships form the basis of many songs on the album, but the chameleon-like nature of our band mean that no two songs appear the same; the subject is ascribed in various manners and tones- giving the album a rich and compelling sense of mystery and intrigue. Breaking from the parable of love-gone-wrong arrives (yep, you guessed it) a short song (the shortest in fact), in the form of Little Room. In the first of two songs that are both (very) brief and ‘unusual’ let’s say, it revolves around a subject, in their little room “working on something good“. We are not sure what is being worked on (or whether it is a general message about ambition and growing up), but you cannot help but picture whom White is referring to- and what he might have been imagining. Meg’s drumming remains constant and unwavering- she does not change pace or time at all, just a constant smash which gives the song a restless energy. The track may refer to White’s (and the band’s) ambitions or music in general; perhaps it is more literal or fictionalised- it is open to your own opinion. By the end of the song, White has a direct message (to the central figure whom has moved to a bigger room): “You might have to think of/How you got started/Sitting in your little room“. The song is just under a minute long and is a beautiful and memorable punctuation (after the draining emotions over the previous five songs). Based around Citizen Kane (the song referencing words from the film), The Union Forever is based around Charles Foster Kane, a man whom admits: “Well I’m sorry but I’m not interested in gold mines, oil wells, shipping or real estate“. Transposing and vicariously projecting himself into Kane’s shoes, White acts the showman-turned-bruised-romantic; a Kane-esque figure whom surveys a focal heroine (“’cause It can’t be love/For there is no true love“); someone whom our hero states: “I’ll bet you five you’re not alive/If you don’t know his name“. It is a mini-epic track, and one that takes us to the mid-way point of the album. The actual centre of the L.P. arrives after The Same Boy You’ve Always Know. With a new song comes a new subject; one which looks at love and expectation once more- but is a reinvention of previous numbers. There is no short burst here; the band supersede expectation and present a song that is considered and emotional. With White’s voice tremulous and wracked (Meg considerate of accompaniment), the track looks at White and his beau; a woman whom “Forgot my name of course/Then you started to remember“. Things seem strained, and White admits some truths (“Well I guess I haven’t grown“). White urges his subject to thing of the past and how things could have lasted. Our hero seems pained at the thought of recollection; guitar chugs and drives- emphasising the desperation and lost hope. The way the song looks at death, love, forgetfulness and lost youth, could well be written about senility- an elderly relative whom may have forgotten White and seems a stranger. Whether dealing with a relationship in its dying stages or something else, I am unsure; our hero seems aghast at the situation. The song sees White starting to give in; accepting that things may not work out. With doubts and questions- as well as stark images- racing around his head, our hero ends with an emotional confession: “And if there’s anything good about me/I’m the only one who knows“. Our ninth track arrives, and allows something more optimistic and pure: We’re Going To Be Friends. Perhaps my least favourite song on the album, yet you cannot deny its charms. It is the most innocent and sweetest song of the set; a simple paen to a childhood friendship- with Suzy Lee. Our hero casts himself at school; with Lee the two are back to school (as it is fall); the duo prepare to start back on their first day (“Climb the fence, books and pens“). The song’s melody is beautiful and soft; it is essentially a Jack White solo track- his voice is tender and breezy throughout. It is a sharp departure from previous songs (and the rest of the album), and for that reason isolates itself somewhat. I know for a fact that many fans consider it one of the finest tracks on White Blood Cells; White himself vividly paints pictures of the carefree nature of childhood: “Walk with me, Suzy Lee/Through the park and by the tree/We will rest upon the ground/And look at all the bugs we found/Safely walk to school without a sound“. With White and Lee arriving at school (dirty uniforms and all), numbers and letters, maths and spelling are order of the day; whilst “Teacher thinks that I sound funny/But she likes the way you sing“. As the song reaches its conclusion, our hero is in bed, dreaming of his schooldays- confident that he and Suzy will be firm friends. An unexpected and sweet-natured number then leads to one that is, well…not so. Showing their talent for surprise and diversity, our duo launch into a song concerning our ill-fated hero- whom cannot seem to please anyone he comes into contact with. Offend In Every Way sees White stymied (“I don’t know what to say“), tiptoeing through life, our hero’s discontent is backed by an epically direct and forceful composition. The band mix striking and pugnacious drumming with multi-layered guitar work (and some impressive piano interjections) to add weight to the mood; projecting an unabated air of fragmentation and dislocation. As White explains “I’m coming through the door/But they’re expecting more/Of an interesting man“, his emotions are in check; yet you can hear the burden in his voice. Our hero is faking who he is; second-guessing and bluffing (honesty is wasted on the crowds); but no matter what he does, offence is caused. People tell him to relax and realise that “Everyone’s my friend/And will be till the end“; but nothing White does seems to please-he is trapped in his own body. The anxiety and helplessness comes through the music, whilst the vocal is kept levelled- not allowing itself to descend into histrionics. Most other acts would probably throw so much bitterness and anger into the composition, that it would get buried under its own weight. Our duo present a composition that is detailed and emotive; filled with diversions and twists. In the manner that Offend In Every Way looks inwardly, I Think I Smell A Rat strikes outwardly. With an intro. that sounds almost Flamenco, the song gets under way. Our hero points his finger at people; specifically youth and those on the street (“All you little kids seem to think you know just where it’s at“); you get a real sense of a modern man, annoyed at kids and the new generation. With the accused “Walking down the street carrying a baseball bat” our hero smells a rat- everything they believe in and preach is wrong. The lyrics are sparse but effective; White employs only a few different lines, but repeats them to great effect. Punctuating vitriolic verses is that shimmering and spiky guitar line; with Meg slamming on her drum kit. With the kids “Using your mother and father for a welcome mat“; White has had enough; and reached the end of his tether. To me, I Think I Smell A Rat is one of the finest songs of the album; it is filled with accusatory directness; the composition is catchy and powerful- the song has everything that the album epitomise. If you are looking for a relaxing break after I Think I Smell A Rat‘s ballistic fire, then think again. The album’s sole instrumental (there are vocal interjections but you can’t really call it singing); comes with Aluminium. Twisted and distorted guitars arrive; they blend and spar with one another- giving you the impression of a robot on the rampage or a car being crushed. White’s only vocal contributed is a repeated ‘ahhh’; one which is gargle, distorted and multi-layered. Meg’s drumming is powerful and meaty; superbly backing Jack’s frantic and staggering guitar work. Whilst many would seem the song as slight or ‘filler’, it uis one of the best things on the album, as it gets inside your head- there is nothing you can fault at all. Whilst not a fully fledged number, it is a daring and brave inclusion; one which perfectly links the previous track, to the next. That song, I Can’t Wait, sees White punching out at an unnamed figure; a girl whom has messed him around too long. Explaining that “I can’t wait till you try to come back girl/When things they don’t work out for you“, our hero has had his share of being used. The composition, once again, is chugging and mobile; changing courses and paths to elicit up the full amount of raw emotion. White is surveying the scene and looking back at events (“First you said I was blind/And it’s gonna be different this time/I thought you made up your mind“); concluding his remembrance with fuzzy and scintillating raw guitar work. Our hero is getting used to being alone; fed up at this feeling, and determined to feel better again. His house does not feel like a home, and he hopes that his subject gets her act together- there is a sense that he wishes things could be different for them. When White states “Do you really think I want be left out girl/Who do you think you’re trying to fool“, you can hear his voice dripping with anger and spite. When the song comes to the end, there is a sense of breathlessness and exhaustion; you feel sorry for White and hope things work out- although you suspect that they won’t. Now Mary is up next, and there seems to be some sarcasm and irony within its lyrics. Looking at the sacrifices and realities of love, White apologizes; he has let his love down; but it is said: “Knowing you I’ll think things are gonna be fine/But then again you’ll probably change your mind“. Where as the last few numbers have had a powerful and overwhelming directness to them, here, the composition is lighter and less oppressive. With scratchy guitar riffs and jumping percussion, the song has a buoyancy to it that keeps things level- and slightly optimistic. It seems that the relationship may have broken down (or in its dying stages), and White reflects on the sacrifices he has had to make: “I’m sorry Mary but being your mate/Means trying to find something that you aren’t going to hate“. Not quite as memorable as the songs either side of it, Now Mary is still one of the most impressive numbers on the album. It has hints of their debut album, and is one of the ‘catchier’ numbers on White Blood Cells. My favourite song on the album arrives in the form of I Can Learn. It has a brooding darkness to it; a languid crawl matched with power and potency. White is in considered mood, pining for love and tired of being alone. He has made mistakes in the past, but can learn- change his ways and be a better man. Although White’s intentions are pure and admirable, he may have some work to do: “I don’t know any lullabies/I don’t know how to make you mine/But I can learn“. The guitars twang and strike; the drum is ecstatic and light- it is a composition of contradictions and conviction. White is out on the scene (or imagining in his head), cast in a date situation (“Drive you home/Then wait by the phone/For that call/And a walk in the fall“); hoping that a long-term romance is imminent. Our hero’s sense of optimism, desperation and genuine heart are what makes the number the highlight of the album. The composition changes path and course and keeps you on edge; it is as potent a number as you can imagine. White looks around at lovers and their happiness; he wants to have what they have, and implores to his sweetheart- “No harm will come of this/One little midnight kiss/It will not burn“. Our hero feels it is his turn; he wants to feel what everyone else feels. As the final verse comes into view, words are tempted and elongated; adding weight to them and making sure they stick in your brain- “Falling down/Is no longer around/Feeling sun/I’m no longer one“. I adore the final line as it is delicately and precisely delivered; each word is punctuated and emphasised- our hero delivering it with almost gleeful sarcasm (Well isn’t this fun?). The final track is This Protector; one which sees a rare vocal appearance from Meg. It is also one of the few songs (if not the only one) which is guitar-free. It is scenic and image-filled; its meanings are ambiguous. Whether dealing with paranoia, the downfalls of love, or something more dangerous, strange and oblique words are poured forth. When our duo sing “You thought you heard a sound/There’s no one else around/Looking at the door/It’s coming through the floor“- you wonder what the true meaning of those words are. With 300 people in West Virginia- whom have no idea of “all these thoughts that lie within ya“- the piano flourishes and rolls and smashes. A brave and different song, This Protector is one of the most stand-out numbers (as it unlike anything on the set). and allows Meg a chance to step away from the drums- and onto the mic. As the final notes play and the album ends, you sit back and take it all in. At sixteen tracks, it is a thorough and stunning work, and one that provides something for everyone- and shows The White Stripes at their creative peak. It is an assertion that is shared by many critics; the album received mass acclaim, and all kinds of effusive and wonderful praise:
“Detroit’s Jack and Meg White, allegedly brother and sister, look like they haven’t been out of their apartment in six years, and like the Ramones, they named themselves after their band (or vice versa). Best of all, they fuse inescapable, eerily eternal melodies with dirty-ass, brain-scrambling riffs that recall both the Kinks and the Melvins“.
“…it’s precisely this mix of strength and sweetness, among other contrasts, that makes The White Stripes so intriguing. Likewise, White Blood Cells’ ability to surprise old fans and win over new ones makes it the Stripes’ finest work to date“.
“With White Blood Cell’s amount of variety, I’ll leave the rest of the analysis to you. If you have yet to experience the album, go and grab it as soon as you can. It may take a couple listens to adjust to Jack White’s vocals and the slicing guitars, but you shant regret it once you do“.
Tiny Mix Tapes
Following the success of White Blood Cells, the duo found themselves wrestling with a double-edged sword. The media attention, scrutiny and expectation was weighting heavy on their minds- especially Jack’s. Speculation regarding the duo’s relationship; tied with commercial pressures, was leaving the band a little jaded and burdened. In spite of this, the band went on to record three more albums (before they broke up). For a group with the eyes of the world on them, Elephant was a surprising revelation. Many would assumed that the Stripes would falter or slow; yet the L.P. marked a leap in confidence and quality- and remains the band’s most notable album. Whilst it is a fan favourite and critical preference, it wouldn’t have happened without White Blood Cells. Elephant saw Jack and Meg continuing their lo-tech voyage; setting up camp at Toe Rag Studios (in London), the duo spent only a few days creating their fourth L.P. Monster anthems (Seven Nation Army) nestled alongside sexy and sweating numbers (Ball and Biscuit). Black Math’s crunching and staggering guitar-and-drum combo; Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine was a jumping and whopping sing-song; You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket a soft and tender number- there was a huge range of sounds and emotions. It seemed as though Detroit’s leading lights were in no mood to slow down or demure: here was a band on a mission. A couple of years passed between the release of Elephant and their next album (Get Behind Me Satan); it was this period that saw the band at their peak- in terms of critical pressure and popularity. Because of the weight of expectation and the need for the group to replicate Elephant’s templates, it is not shocking that Get Behind Me Satan was a slight step back. There were fewer hard-edged and raw mandates this time around. Marimbas and Country-tinged numbers came in; a Pop-infused mood crept into a few numbers; and our heroes were intent on moving their sound forward. My Doorbell and The Denial Twist are stonewall sing-alongs; composed of pure dance and glee- the Whites sounding like they were having the time of their lives. Sex and raw passion were still present, with Instinct Blues leading the charge. Paranoia and frustration were explored; there was more outwards spite and anger coming through- as Take, Take, Take will bear witness. The vicissitudes and scars of fame and adulation were causing Jack to pour blood from his pen, yet Mr. Gillis was still himself- there is plenty of joy, intrigue and humour afoot. As I’m Lonely, (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet) ended the album with a smirk, a new phase was being entered. The band was beginning to incorporate sounds of Latin America and Country Music- with perhaps less emphasis on Blues and Garage Rock. The final album was to arrive in the form of Icky Thump (in 2007). A lot had changed in the two years since Get Behind Me Satan. Countries had been conquered; Jack got married (to English model Karen Elson), and it seemed as though our frontman was a lot happier in his skin. Icky Thump (with its title rooted in northern England), to some, was ‘business as usual’. Of course, The White Stripes had never left, but it seemed as though their previous album’s unique sounds were an anomaly. The raw passion and force of Elephant and White Blood Cells was back. From the title track opener, through to Little Cream Soda; it appeared that Jack hd not lost his love of Zeppelin and Garage Rock. Both players were on top form, and tracks such as Rag and Bone and 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues married their past and present together. The band has moved from Detroit and were living separate lives; not that this had a detrimental effect on the music. Our duo were on heavier and traditional territory and showing how much innovation and genius they still possessed. Allmusic surmised it, thus: “(Icky Thump) is a mature, but far from stodgy, album — and, as is usually the case, it’s just great fun to hear the band play“. Perhaps it was personal relationship issues, or else a fatigue; but The White Stripes called it a day in 2011. Four years after their final album, the band were dissolved. In retrospect, the constant touring and pressure was always going to leave its marks, and so it proved to be. With Jack hungry to pursue other projects; Meg keen to step away from the spotlight, the duo went their separate ways.
The legacy that The White Stripes left is still evident today. I have focused on White Blood Cells, as it is not only my favourite (of their albums), yet it was the moment that the band truly felt comfortable. It was their first peak, and showed to the world just how good they were. When I first heard the album, I knew that I had found my ‘new favourite band’. I was aware of their work, but it had not truly hit me. When their third album came to light, everything changed. Jack White- in my opinion- is one of the most underrated songwriters of his generation, and White Blood Cells is a testament to a hungry and brilliant (songwriting) mind. It seemed that the man (and band) could achieve anything, and as a result, a whole host of groups were pricking their ears up. The album is still touching people today, and its layers and mysteries detectable in modern-day work. On that note, more people are influenced by that album than you may think. I have heard so many songs (and bands) whom have flavours and elements of White Blood Cells (and The White Stripes) in their motifs; the same Garage Rock rush- as well as the vocal strains of Jack. Few bands could summon up the immediate and short-lived bursts of Fell In Love With A Girl without sounding mimicking or inferior; no act has matched Hotel Yorba for sheer evocative charm- how many groups could pen I Think I Smell A Rat? As unbeatable (in my view) as that album it, so many people are taking on its legacy and ashes. Today, both Jack and Meg lead very different existences. Meg has retreated back into regular life, and is re-married and living happily. Jack (as you’d expect) is a White-of-all-trades. As well as working with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, he has a thriving solo career. Jack’s two different bands are unique, yet neither match the heights of The White Stripes. That does not mean there is no quality, as both acts have put out some wonderful songs and albums. White- unconstrained by the rigidity of his former act- found himself in open air, and relaxed. Across the two bands, White has proved what a varied and solid songwriter he is. It is in his solo work, however, that the strongest impressions are evident. On Blunderbuss, there are Country-tinged number, as well as hard and furious anthems- sound familiar? It seems as though the embers of The White Stripes have not burned out, and White remains one of the most fervent and prolific talents of his age. With a forthcoming solo act imminent (Lazaretto), it seems that he has a very bright (and busy) future.
Few acts have burned as brightly as The White Stripes. Maybe it was because of the climate they grew up in; the time that they came to prominence, or else the talents of our two heroes- but the band have found few equals. With Jack White still playing and aiming high, we are still going to be hearing elements of The White Stripes’ best days. White Blood Cells is incarnated in various other albums; on the minds of modern acts; it is something that is both timeless and rare. I hope that we live to see the day where a band (and album) arrives that makes such a huge impression; is a summation and distillation of the times- perhaps we have already. As much as anything, it is just a phenomenal work, and one that suits any mood. If you want emotion and tenderness, then it is there. Plenty of raw and primal urges linger; dangerous and direct Garage Rock slams can be heard- as well as anything else you may require. In the coming weeks I will be surveying other great albums (from various acts), but White Blood Cells is one of my all-time favourite albums for various reasons: there is an emphatic and relentless quality; it draws my mind back to better times, and fostered my love of a truly remarkable act. If you haven’t heard the album, then I urge you to seek it out- or at least check out a few tracks. I think you will agree that it is an album that subjugate definition; is not restricted to lovers of a certain genre- it is an album that can be appreciated by anyone. It is pretty wet and miserable today, so why not cheer yourself up and listen to a truly remarkable work. It will make you smile; it will urge you to sign along; it will get inside your mind, and if nothing else, it will make you…
FORGET about your troubles.
Buy White Blood Cells.
Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground– 9.7/10.
Hotel Yorba– 9.8
I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman– 9.7
Fell In Love With A Girl– 9.8
Little Room– 9.7
The Union Forever– 9.5
The Same Boy You’ve Always Know– 9.8
We’re Going To Be Friends– 9.3
Offend In Every Way– 9.7
I Think I Smell A Rat– 9.9
I Can’t Wait– 9.9
Now Mary– 9.6
I Can Learn– 10.0
This Protector– 9.5
Standout Track: I Can Learn
Download: Hotel Yorba, Fell In Love With A Girl, I Think I Smell A Rat, I Can’t Wait and I Can Learn.