[4 April 2003]
The White Stripes are our saviors, and they will lead us to the promised land that flows with milk and honey.
“How scandalous! What unfounded hyperbole!” you scream. You are wrong. So very, very wrong.
Just one listen—a singular exposure—to Elephant, the fourth and latest offering from Jack and Meg White, is proof enough that the Stripes have come to take us to rock nirvana, a place last visited in . . . well, it’s been so long I can’t even remember when the rock has been this hard, this grimy. Nay sayers beware! Judgment day is upon us, and, like Kirk Cameron, you will be left behind.
Jack and Meg have on a collision course with this kind of defining moment from the opening blues riffs of their self-titled debut. Each album, from the White Stripes to De Stijl to White Blood Cells, has shown their evolution from Blind Willie McTell cover band with a pop sensibility to full-fledged, honest-to-goodness rock ‘n’ roll gods, a status finally reached on their latest disc. Don’t be fooled—I don’t care if the peppermint-swaddled duo is on every damn music magazine from here to Basra—Jack’s guitar will eviscerate you and drag your entrails around while Meg goes smashy-smashy in the heaviest, most simplistic way possible.
No, the songs on Elephant aren’t any more complex or intricate than anything else the Stripes have done, but the quality throughout the album is new. While White Blood Cells had a stellar first half, stomping its way from “Dead Leaves” to “Little Room” before slowing it down for the kids on “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” and in general throwing the so-so tracks towards the end. Doesn’t happen this time around, as the songs from beginning to end rarely falter.
There are striking similarities to previous songs—Jack may be prolific, but there isn’t a need to start repeating ideas. Luckily, “There’s No Home for You Here” apes “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, the best song on the last album. The differences between the two are, uh, subtle—hey Jack, how about adding female backup singers to throw listeners off the scent? But any song with a snotty Jack spitting out these lyrics is a-okay with me:
Waking up for breakfast
So completely stupid
Just go away
And don’t you come near my trailer park no more! “Hypnotize” is this year’s “Fell in Love with a Girl”, all lighting-fast punk riffing with Meg bashing the skins as fast as she can. But why quibble with a song that cribs from the best rock single of the past two years?
Elephant will grab you from the first note, I can guarantee you of that. Through some fancy guitar chicanery, Jack appears to whip out (gasp!) a bass on “Seven Nation Army”, the first single and album opener. Everybody cool out—Mr. White had some free cash and decided to buy some crazy contraption that twists his trusty gee-tar into some low-toned monster, ready to rub you out if you turn away. No one’s stupid enough to do that, right? Not when the chorus kicks in and Jack unleashes his fury on the masses.
Then comes to explosive “Black Math”, for which Mr. White becomes a taunting, evil child, yelling at his antagonists “unh unh unh unh unh!” The taunting eventually melts into frustration (and possible insanity) when the duo takes a stab at Burt Bacharach’s “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”. It begins with a strained Jack muttering, “Going to a movie only makes me sad / Parties make me feel as bad / Because I’m not with you / I just don’t know what to do” before exploding in sexual and romantic frustration with the poor sap strangling out “I need your sweet love to beat all the pain / I just don’t know what to do with myself” in a maniacal, cracked delivery. Does Jack ever go big on that scene and still manages to sell it. Riveting.
And all those clamoring for a solo Meg get their wish (what, there are only two of you?). “Cold, Cold Night” delivers a quiet song as sung by the female half of the Stripes, and Meg does a competent job. She also gets in on the jokey final song, “It’s True That We Love One Another”, as Jack, Meg and special guest star Holly Golightly all express their love for one another. Cute, but it feels tacked on so as to continue the mythology that Jack and Meg have created around their relationship to one another.
Who knew the Stripes had a seven-minute song in them? On “Ball and Biscuit” they rip out 7:15 of stalking bluesy bombast intercut with thundering Zeppelin rampages through the thick Mississippi Delta. While Jack deals with similar themes as in the past (silly girls, broken hearts and the innocence of youth), the energy and commitment of his delivery prevents the repetition from grating on the nerves. It’s tough to care if Jack sounds like a 10-year-old in a 30-year-old body when the music is trampling your will to resist.
Here’s your last warning, unbelievers: Grab Jack’s outstretched hand before you, lest the devils wrestle you down! Repent, for the time to ascend to the gates of rock heaven is nigh!