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Whiiite Stripes

February 2, 2011

The news of the White Stripes split, effective immediately with no 80’s style farewell tour planned, was abrupt and sardonically affected. Jack and Meg White’s philosophical and, hopefully, satirical take on the “life of music” will rub some people the wrong way for different reasons, but it is flawlessly pretentious and perfectly calculated. For an artist like Jack White (no shots at Meg but this was always Jack’s world) character play is just another day in the life.

I hesitate to make this into a retrospective simply because I don’t think the White Stripes’ discography merits a long look into their musical evolution and stature. They have a collection of cuts that are still popular with good reason (Seven Nation Army, Fell in Love with a Girl), more tracks that were listened to a few times and forgotten about (Hotel Yorba, You Don’t Know What Love Is, Hello Operator) and even more tracks that no one ever heard but may be better than any of the above (Catch Hell Blues, 300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues, Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground).

Still common though are tracks that are misguidedly experimental; containing bits and pieces of music but spliced with too many bits off the cutting room floor (Little Room, Acorns, Blue Orchid). None of these songs ruin any of the White Stripe’s albums, but they do create breaks that sound unnatural and, more often, unwanted. There is a balance to experimentation (see: The Soft Bulletin) but typically bands that explore those territories do so because they know the language. The White Stripes are summarily American; blues, rock, and folk. Their expansion past those things, while brave, usually ends in disaster.

That being said the White Stripes still dominated popular music for a not insignificant period of time in the early 2000’s. Their performances were energetic, original, and centered on music through spectacle which made them contrarians of the highest order. Their music, often gritty and uncompromising, set the precedent for bands like The Black Keys and the Kings of Leon (their first album, at least). Jack White, when he decided to play the blues, sounded as much like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, or Paul Butterfield as he sounded like Jack White (and who’s to say he doesn’t belong in that pantheon?).

Together though, the careers of the Jack and Meg White probably tracks best to that of another hard rock group that mixed in the occasional mandolin and featured a singularly talented guitarist: Led Zeppelin. While Led Zep’s career lasted a decade longer, their discography reads an imperfect epic. Their one classic, Led Zeppelin IV, was still not a complete album, as the White Stripes two best albums, White Blood Cells and Icky Thump, never quite grasped the complete record either. Neither was held back by the burden of talent —for all my derision Meg White is actually a talented percussionist— both simply failed to summit.

The lack of a complete record does not damage their legacy —Jack White is the consummate white bluesman and perhaps the best guitarist alive today— it will only fog it.

DL:  The White Stripes – Little Acorns (318 kbps)

DL:  The White Stripes – Catch Hell Blues (320 kbps)

DL:  The White Stripes – Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground (320 kbps)

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One comment

  1. […] one’s super timely, coming off the White Stripes retirement last week.  I was expecting a super-ignorant electro-remix but this one is pretty minimal for the most part. […]



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