The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
Jack White isn’t that great. Meg White isn’t that bad.
When Jian Ghomeshi suggests you’re a purveyor of cool (as he did on a semi-recent Q episode), you’re doing something right. According to many, Jack White can do no wrong.
His former bandmate? The recipient of considerably less praise. Make that the most criticized drummer in recent memory.
So naturally, I have to play devil’s advocate.
Why I’m a fan of Meg:
– Meg can keep the beat, stay in time, job #1 of a drummer successfully complete.
– Sometimes less is more.
– The simplistic approach is appropriate for their under-produced sound (particularly on White Blood Cells, their most stripped down record from the 1001 list)
– She gives me a false sense of confidence about my drumming, “hey, I can do that!” Isn’t inspiring listeners to play along part of what music is all about?
– Despite being in one of the most popular acts of the last twenty years, she guards her privacy and is quite shy. In an era where other celebrities (or celebutantes that don’t seem to have any discernible talent) say & do the darndest things, scratching & clawing for a smidgeon of the public’s fleeting attention – isn’t her modesty somewhat refreshing?
Why Jack ain’t so hot:
– He’s just fine, I’m not hatin’ as they say, but food doesn’t necessarily taste better after listening to White Blood Cells.
– When I play hockey with less skilled athletes, the relativism makes me look better than I actually am. When Jack plays guitar in The White Stripes…
– Much like Kurt Cobain, there’s no denying he is a significant guitarist. Not for technical proficiency, more so for writing simple riffs/progressions that resonated. So simple guitar = good, simple drums = bad?
– There tends to be a critical bias praising groups at the beginning of a movement. Think Nirvana again with the much maligned term “grunge.” The White Stripes were at the forefront of the early 21st Century Garage Rock Revival. Better groups have come and gone but as a trailblazer, The White Stripes (specifically Jack) benefit from the trailblazer bias.
– The right timing, the right packaging. The late 90s were not memorable years in music history. The group that brings respectability/excitement back to music gets the acclaim. Did I mention Nirvana? Kurt & Co. burst onto the scene with Nevermind, quickly bringing an end to hair metal (to the delight of many but much to the chagrin of some of my fellow bloggers!). Ten years later, The White Stripes reclaimed the airwaves from the manufactured Boy Band/Girl Band clones. The confusing back story (husband/wife? brother/sister?) and consistent red & white branding didn’t hurt.
All somewhat tongue-in-cheek of course, clearly there are other reasons he and the group are so revered. I just can’t help but defend an underdog and at least file down the pedestal upon which some seemingly critically immune artists are placed.
After looking at other photos from that era, I think he’s also got a small chin beard buried in the shadow. Ahh well, life will go on somehow!
Enough about moustaches, back to the music. We’re Going to be Friends is a classic, with or without the great Napoleon Dynamite association. Fell in Love With a Girl isn’t far from that status & I could have easily been tricked into believing that The Same Boy You’ve Always Known was a strong unreleased Age of Electric track.
Listening to this one back-to-back with A Night At The Opera (review to follow later this week) was a fun experience as they really represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of production. Both have some solid songs, just very different recording strategies.
Overall, White Blood Cells has a good energy, a good vibe, and it was indisputably good for the direction of popular music in 2001.
In Weezer’s Heart Songs, there’s a nice sequence where Rivers describes his inspiration to play in a band:
“Back in 1991, I wasn’t havin’ any fun
‘Til my roommate said, “Come on and put a brand new record on”
Had a baby on it, he was naked on it
Then I heard the chords that broke the chains I had upon me…”