White Blood Cells
Sympathy For The Record Industry
By: Eric Greenwood
Believe the hype. I kept reading so many glowing and ingratiating reviews of this band that I just instinctively put up my guard. Weeks went by and I still hadn’t heard The White Stripes. I felt like a leper. I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I broke down and downloaded the song, “Fell In Love With A Girl.” Goddamn. How could something so simple be so good? To read the ingredients you’d never guess that it sounded like this: raw, dirty guitars, occasional organs, intuitive drumming, and a voice that aches, squawks, soothes, and rocks with all the passion and fervor of Otis Redding, Black Francis, and Mick Jagger rolled into one.
Nothing is more evident when listening to White Blood Cells than the fact that Jack and Meg White live and breathe music. All kinds too: folk, country, rock, punk, and, of course, the blues. You couldn't make music like this if you didn't absolutely worship it. From the opening squeal of "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground", you can feel the true grit of The White Stripes, warts 'n all. Your parents can't say they don't make rock and roll like they used to because they do, and this is the proof. "If you can hear a piano fall/you can hear me coming down the hall." White's voice bends in and out of falsetto and a twangy, strained yelp: "soft hair and a velvet tongue/I want to give you what you give to me/and every breath that is in your lungs is a tiny little gift to me." The stomp and swagger of the guitar and drums exude bravado and daring. And, yeah, it fucking rocks, too.
"Hotel Yorba" spurts and crackles with an infectious chorus, evoking the Pixies at its most dazzlingly odd. It's manic folk rock with catchy lyrics to match. The Rolling Stones would chop off their arms to be able to write a song like "I'm Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman" now. "I'm finding it harder to be a gentleman every day/all the manners that I've been taught have slowly died away/but if I held the door open for you it would make your day.” The slow grind builds into a classic rock and roll riff accentuated by piano and organ, in keeping with the band's utter devotion to simplicity, emotion, and subtle ingenuity. "Fell In Love With A Girl" makes Jon Spencer seem so distant and small. Noisy, garage rock never sounded so good. Billy Childish should be proud.
"Expecting" may resemble Black Sabbath a bit too much, but as soon as Jack White starts singing any visions of Tony Iommi simply fade away. The White Stripes' sound is built on a groundwork lain by others, and the band makes no bones about it. In fact, the band wears its influences proudly on its sleeve, but the catch is that Jack and Meg White inject enough energy and charisma to make this music uniquely their own. "The Same Boy You've Always Known" showcases Jack White's expansive songwriting skills. You can't just pick up a guitar and bang out songs like these, but he makes it sound like you can. Every half-assed garage band since the 60's has used these simple chords and predictable changes, but The White Stripes give credence to the theory that it's not what you play- it's how you play it.
Jack White's inner Paul McCartney surfaces on "We're going To Be Friends"- his "Blackbird." His voice sounds innocent and pure against a simple acoustic backdrop, and his lyrics complete the picture: "numbers, letters, learn to spell/nouns and books and show and tell/at playtime we will throw the ball/back to class, through the hall/teacher marks our height against the wall." It's so simple and honest and true that you want to kick yourself for not having thought of it first. At the other end of the emotional spectrum, White exposes his vindictive side on "I Can't Wait." The dirty riff portends the bile to come: "I can't wait til you try to come back, girl/when things they don't work out for you/who do you think you're messing with, girl/what do you think you're trying to do?"
"Now Mary" is another piece of gold. Between his guitar and his voice, Jack White has an emotional range that is overwhelming. There is no doubt that his seemingly casual melodies will stand the test of time because he's got the voice to burn them into your memory. And likewise, "This Protector" perfectly caps off this monumental album. With only a foreboding piano backing them up, Jack and Meg sing together: "300 people living out in West Virginia have no idea of all these thoughts that lie within you now." I have no idea what that means, but damn if I don't feel like I do. This band deserves every bit of the hype surrounding it. Go buy this album now.