The White Stripes – Elephant

Elephant (2003)

A

1. Seven Nation Army 2. Black Math 3. There’s No Home For You Here 4. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself 5. In The Cold, Cold Night 6. I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart 7. You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket 8. Ball And Biscuit 9. The Hardest Button To Button 10. Little Acorns 11. Hypnotize 12. The Air Near My Fingers 13. Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine 14. It’s True That We Love One Another

 

As wise old Obi-Wan Kenobi might say, White Blood Cells constituted the White Stripes’ “first steps into a larger world.” There were obviously higher, greater ambitions going on there, though they were at times a bit roughly executed. So in order to catch their skills up with their aspirations, Jack and Meg jetted off to Degobah to train with Yoda for a while. By the time they returned to Earth, they were badass Jedi masters; beasts of their craft, towering head and shoulders over their garage rock peers like a wookie over an ewok. Jack no longer sees any reason hold back… if he wants to solo for five minutes on a swaggering sex blues romp, he does it (“Ball And Biscuit”). If he wants to overdub, like, 12 part vocal harmonies, he does it (“There’s No Home For You Here”). Everybody knows there’s only two people in the band now, so no reason to force themselves to sound like it, right? These are big classic rock songs, and they demand big classic rock delivery.

Well, after a couple of years on the big time touring circuit, Jack and Meg were now ready to sign for that FedEx package. Give Meg credit for being brave and keeping up – she lends a Mo Tucker-ish lead vocal performance to the sleepy, slinky “In The Cold, Cold Night,” and her now very much on-the-beat pounding on some of the rockers, like the spooky, thumpalicious “The Hardest Button To Button” or the “Fell In Love With A Girl” retread “Hypnotize,” show some legitimate technical improvement. But Jack must’ve started taking steroids or something, because all of a sudden he’s a whole new, altogether more untamed animal. He introduces the world to his signature squealing lead guitar heroics, for one, and devises an ideal showcase for them with “Ball And Biscuit.” I don’t care if it’s based on the most standard blues progression in the history of the universe, listen to it and tell me it’s not the most badass music to fuck to made by white people since Mick Jagger got clean (what are white people supposed to fuck to nowadays anyway? Radiohead? Wilco? Yeah, good luck not falling asleep. It was horrible when I was nailing your mom last night and we were listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and she fell asleep right on top of me for three hours and I couldn’t move an inch because yo mama so fat she’s got more rolls than a bakery. OH SNAP BURN). His tone is now more roaring Marshall stack than practice amp in basement, and, accordingly, he can now turn his rock riffs into crunchy monsters (“Black Math”). He can even turn a corny Dusty Springfield song into a soaring rock anthem (“I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”); how often does that happen? And although Elephant is largely supercharged, heavy rock, Jack still does the warm, melodic pop thing beautifully, with the in-law angst piano anthem “I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart” and “The Air Near My Fingers.” I’ve listened to this album and walked around with the “doo doo doo” part of the latter stuck in my head for days.

And god dammit, Jack was so on fire making this album, he was able to compose on perform one of the most memorable bass lines of all time, completely unconcerned with the fact that his band doesn’t have a bass player in it! I know, I know, the “Seven Nation Army” riff is actually played on severely detuned guitar, but it’s still a darn good bass line, innit? The first time I ever heard the Stripes or Jack White was when they played this song at the Grammys in 2004… I hated them. Back then I was the most devout of classic rock purists, and I firmly believed that all music not made by hairy drug taking dudes in the 60s and 70s sucked ass. I thought “Seven Nation Army” sounded like ugly punk music, and I guess compared to what I was listening to at the time—shit, I literally listened to nothing but the Beatles for a two or three year period back there in the early 2000s, and I am not exaggerating—I wasn’t far off. But now, of course, I understand. It’s as towering an anthem as one can reasonably expect from a rock scene as introverted as the one that has dominated the past decade. The fact that Jack has had the balls to defy that scene with that song—and indeed, with his whole career since he’s been in the spotlight—is his greatest contribution to music. He’s truly acted the part of the rock star when nobody else seems willing. And though he may have gotten carried away with the role in more recent years, circa Elephant, he played it perfectly.



One Comment

  1. Emily wrote:

    Finally, an A!

    Not surprisingly, this album holds the top spot in my very mathematical White Stripes record ranking system.


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