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Don't believe the hype

Have The White Stripes already saved rock and roll?


The White Stripes
The White Stripes are coming! The White Stripes are coming! The sensation that’s sweeping the nations, according to Rolling Stone, Spin, CMJ, MOJO Magazine and everyone in between. Even the Missoulian had an article with some guy saying, Yep, it’s gonna go platinum. I bet the V2 label rep has been hard at work telling his A&R pals The White Stripes are the next big thing, right up there with The Strokes, The Vines and The Hives. It’s gonna be an instant classic? Well, here’s an instant five stars!

Yes, I’m sick of the hype. I mean, what’s the point of a review when the public is going to buy this anyway, lathered into a froth by all the mainstream hype? Not only does my cynicism thrive on account of The White Stripes press overkill, but judging by their interviews, I see it seeping into the band’s own camp as well, making them a bit unnerved and tired of the excess attention. And some of the attention has been pretty unworthy. I call it the ABBA complex, where the public is a little too hung up on the intra-band Jack and Meg relationship, the same way we were once all in a tizzy about marital relations Swedish-style. The first bit of information I’d ever heard about The White Stripes was from a Detroit buddy who said Jack and Meg White were a divorced couple. For the next year and a half, envoys of the U.K. press were stumbling over themselves attempting to figure out if they were siblings or lovers.

Once again the press is stumbling, this time over the release of Elephant, and now I have to try to listen to the disc without reservations, ignoring the hype to treat it like it’s just another product issuing from the revitalized Motor City. But it’s hard to divorce the packaging from what is known and has been read. The usual starlight-mint color scheme is steeped in symbolism, like one of those puzzles where you circle the “hidden” object. In partial thank you to fawning U.K. attention is Jack, holding a cricket bat and flashing either the I Love You sign or the devil’s horns. Part drag-tribute to Loretta Lynn is Meg, weeping over a trail of peanuts leading somewhere. Is the circus coming to town, or is it leaving? You can almost hear rock journalists peeing their pants to come up with the perfect metaphor. In the world of album art, usually only the stoners stare at the cover; we’re here for the filling.

At first listen, the tunes elicit only a lot of eye rolling. The second listen was much better. The single of the disc, “Seven Nation Army,” is hands down the top killer cut with a nice catchy riff that’s been stuck in my head for an entire week (so far). Other highlights include Meg’s singing debut on Dusty Springfield’s “In The Cold Cold Night,” her voice a bit weak but having a certain cool quality nonetheless. “I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart” has an interesting piano foundation, but the lyrics are those of a serious man-child. “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket” is a great song, incredibly reminiscent of something off Big Star’s Third—-in fact, you would think it was a cover. Jack White’s duet with Holly Golightly on “Well It’s True That We Love Each Other” is pretty excellent (although his line about having Holly’s number in the back of his Bible is pretty dumb). Then there are songs like “Black Math,” “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” and “Little Acorns” that shrug along with riffs abounding, but never offering much more than merely OK party music for the background. And a few songs are just pointless, “Ball and Biscuit” being the worst of them with its painfully dull 12-bar blues. “There’s No Home For You Here” is a nearly direct rip from the last LP’s “Dead Leaves.” There are other tunes where a riff might’ve been lifted from another song with minimal change to personalize it, which is something I tend to hate. It’s just cheapens The White Stripes’ spiel, although lifting riffs is the in-thing to do these days.

All in all, Jack and Meg will not be heralded for their progression (hardly their forte), making it somewhat pointless to go into the deeper meaning of Elephant when it’s just rock and roll. It’s nothing new compared to the last 15 years of garage rock that The Gories, The Mono Men or The Gibson Bros. have made with pure vitality and class. The White Stripes are a good band—not the best, just good. What you’d expect after past releases is exactly what you get: a great guitar sound from Jack, some off-key singing, the usual linear drumming from Meg. It’s been like that since their debut. I honestly feel they peaked with their second release, the fantastic De Stijl. White Blood Cells was a bit more innovative, and Elephant sort of tries on that level. But after numerous listens, I equate it to attending the last of several birthday parties in a single week. You don’t want to stay too long because you’ve already had enough. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good effort, but it’s just not as impressive as the music world would have you believe. Those just now getting acquainted with all the bombast might enjoy this more. A five-star rating is far-fetched—I’d give it about three. Ah, but what do you care, you’re gonna buy it anyway. Probably already have.

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