Friday, February 29, 2008

No. 390: Elephant

Band: The White Stripes
Album: Elephant
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: The White Stripes took garage rock's energy, the simplicity of early rock and roll melodies and the rawness of the blues and made for a great record. The album's opener is one of the most memorable guitar riffs of the last 10 years.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The band is mostly a one-trick pony and the songwriting doesn't veer really far from itself (though, they would later do that on "Icky Thump"). Jack White's voice doesn't really do it to me.
Best song: "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" is great, as is "Seven Nation Army" and "In the Cold, Cold Night."
Worst song: I really don't care for "Ball and Biscuit."
Is it awesome?: Yes.

I have been late on the White Stripes. I was Indie Rock Pete for the White Stripes for many years. I've mentioned the phenomenon before, but bands that got huge play on my college's radio station while I was PD tended to just anger me. Often, I would reject them without hearing enough. I'd commented to a friend's father saying he liked the White Stripes by saying "I liked them better when they were called the Kinks."

So, it took me a few years (and, actually, a Jack White side project in the Raconteurs) to get into the band. I now acknowledge that the White Stripes are a pretty excellent band, if spotty.

"Elephant" is their masterpiece. The band's sound had evolved enough to include ideas other than simply copping T-Bone Burnett. The songwriting had evolved enough to include more than just simple above/love rhymes and scaling riffs.


While the band's influences are pretty well-known (blues, early rock and roll, Iggy Pop, etc.), I'd suggest the biggest influence on "Elephant" is the Pixies. The best songs on the album have the Pixies' signature quietLOUDquiet dynamic, specifically "Sven Nation Army," "The Hardest Button to Button" and their version of the Burt Bacharach-penned "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself." Meg White's metronome drumming style fits the music and is loud enough to accent Jack White's almost-twang.

Let me also state that, for all the Internet to see, that I have a giant crush on Meg White. I wish she sang more, as she does on "In the Cold, Cold Night" and "Well It's True That We Love One Another." Pitchfork compares her vocal to Maureen Tucker and Georgia Hubley, but I'd suggest that White's vocals are better.


Also, because this is the Internet, I'd be remiss without pointing you to the awesome videos for "Seven Nation Army" and "The Hardest Button to Button."


Honestly, check out what our good friend Wikipedia has to say about the use "Seven Nation Army" in sport:

Italian football fans often chant the song's signature guitar riff, most notably during Italy's victory in the FIFA World Cup 2006. About 10 million Italians were supposedly singing the song across the nation the night following the final. Coincidentally, in order to win the World Cup, a team has to play against seven different nations. The success of the chant led to the song gaining a second Italian Top Ten entry, peaking at #3.

How do all those Italians sing a guitar riff? Do they use "doo" or "daa?" Or "baa?" So many questions...


Are the White Stripes a great band? Probably not. They're horribly flawed in their simplistic approach to their music, lacking any real layering. Jack White's voice leaves a lot to be desired, however distinctive it is.

Still, this is the band's best album. It's a perfection of the form in that the band's style was never better.


SoulBoogieAlex said...

Since you seem to be a fan of Michel Gondry videos, be sure to check out his movie, Science Of Sleep.

It got a little lost in the flood, but measures up to his feature debut, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind.

R.J. said...

I've seen "Science of Sleep." It's OK, but nothing fantastic. Visually, Gondry is great, but he needs to stick to short form or get a great screenwriter behind him (as it was in "Eternal Sunshine").

SoulBoogieAlex said...

Different strokes for different folks again I guess ;-)

Btw, do you plan to do this for the top 500 songs as well?

R.J. said...

Nope. Once I hit that Eurythmics record, I'm done.

grover said...

Interesting tidbit about the Italian fondness for that song!

Of course, now I'll have that guitar riff stuck in my head for the rest of the day.