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The White Stripes
by antiGUY

Five Star: A look at albums that are so good that they impress even the most cynical of critics. Very few albums are superior enough to obtain a five star rating but occasionally a band slips through the river of mediocrity that is the modern music industry and they produce an album that restores our faith in the future of rock! This series is a look at such albums. 

The duo known as The White Stripes had a lot to prove with “Elephant”, their fourth album. Since they broke wide open with their last album, a lot of people were curious if they could actually live up to the hype. Did they? If you were a fan of the group’s previous work then you will most definitely fall into the “they sure did” camp. On the other hand, if you are one who wrote this band off as a couple of “retro rockers” then this album may just change your mind. As it did mine. 

Knowing the pressure they were under to deliver must have weighed heavily on their minds as they entered the studio but in the end they didn’t compromise their core sound to accommodate anyone, they simply expanded on what they have always done and the result if their best work to date. 

Forget the backlash over the hype for a moment and concentrate on the music. While there are plenty of reasons to degrade The Strokes, The White Stripes give you an equal number of reasons to sit up and pay attention. Unlike the Strokes who trend toward simplistic chords and melodies that are catchy at first but eventually end up sounding hollow, The White Stripes keep their raw edge and retro sound and yet take it in a variety of different directions.  When you consider that this band is a duo, the fact that they are capable of creating such a wall of sound is astounding (of course the studio opens up possibilities not available live). Unlike their previous work, which was lacking a really strong driving undercurrent on the low end, the music here has a full and complete sound driven by the bass and drums. Add in the distorted guitar and keyboards and you have a lot to contend with here. The vocals are the icing on the cake as Jack White explores his full register and comes across far more powerfully than with his previous work, mixing an Iggy Pop vibe with a little Van Morrison, a young Robert Plant and even Freddie Mercury. 

But it’s the total package here that’s impressive as the White Stripes manage to capture the groove of the street level pre-punk glam rock mix it with dirty blues and bring it into the 21st century without sounding dated. Even when they aren’t rocking full throttle they manage to put their own unique stamp on these styles which when played by others sound rather played out but when delivered by the White Stripes come across as refreshing. Even the middle of the road, “There's No Home For You Here,” isn’t predictable with it’s Plant like tone in the vocals on the verses and unconventional lyrical phrasing.  This isn’t a band like The Strokes that relies on one simple formula.  That only becomes even more evident with the next track, “I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself”. A song that if you have only heard the singles from this band before you probably wouldn’t recognize the source if this came blaring out of your radio. It too has a Zep quality to it but mixed with a little Van Morrison. 

If you were expecting an album of full in your face retro rock you might be disappointed as The White Stripes do their best to explore the middle ground on a lot of the tunes here. “In The Cold, Cold Night “ is further evidence of this as Meg takes the mic and delivers a song that would have been right at home during the Summer of Love. The melodic piano driven and soulful “I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart” is a definite highpoint and is the perfect example of the real diversity at work with The White Stripes. Of course, the first two tracks “Seven Nation Army” and “Black Math” give us the powerful side of the group but it’s the middle of disc where the band explores their mellower side that this group really shines. Listen to a track like “You've Got Her In Your Pocket” and you might wonder who in the hell you’re listening to. Is this a lost Zeppelin track for the Zeppelin III sessions? 

They kick it back into the distorted blues with “Ball And Biscuit”, and then into full on retro-glam with “The Hardest Button To Button” which echos with a Iggy meets the Stones vibe. “Little Acorns” is one the rawest track here and rocks unmercifully. That is only followed up with the riff happy punk meets early Judas Priest like “Hypnotise,” and then the powerful and yet soulful “The Air Near My Fingers,” which in reality is a song that is far more hypnotic than “Hypnotise”.

“Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine,” just solidifies the Stooges comparisons and is remarkable in the fact that is sounds as if it was taken directly out of the original glam scene but has an originality to it. 

For the closing track, “Well It's True That We Love One Another,“ the group has a little fun with all of the rumors, speculation and innuendo that surround what the real relationship was between Jack and Meg. While this tongue in cheek mid tempo tune isn’t close to best track on the record, it’s a fun duet between Jack and Meg and seems like the perfect close to the album. 

So there you have it, this scribe’s take on this collection of music that draws heavily from rock’s past but still manages to break through today. I give this disc a five star rating because it quite simply surprised me and was far better than I expected it to be. While you may debate that high of rating there should be no debate that Jack and Meg more than meet the challenge they faced when they entered the studio to record this album. If you were turned off by the singles from the White Stripes last album you might do better to take a listen to all they have to offer on this disc. They definitely are not a one trick pony and actually do have a lot to offer, if you’re willing to give them an honest listen. 

CD Info 

The White Stripes – Elephant 
Seven Nation Army 
Black Math 
There's No Home For You Here 
I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself 
In The Cold, Cold Night 
I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart 
You've Got Her In Your Pocket 
Ball And Biscuit 
The Hardest Button To Button
Little Acorns 
Air Near My Fingers, The 
Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine 
Well It's True That We Love One Another
Listen to samples and Purchase this CD online

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