Home Read Classic Album Review: The White Stripes | White Blood Cells

Classic Album Review: The White Stripes | White Blood Cells

The blues-punk duo's third album is the one that separates them from the pack.

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This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):

 


Even in indie-rock, a little sexual ambiguity goes a long way.

Just ask Jack and Meg White, the members of Detroit garage-rock minimalists The White Stripes. For years, the underground music press has been trying to pin down their relationship. Are they brother and sister? Husband and wife? Ex-spouses? I’ve read them all. Whichever it is, Jack and Meg are smart enough to keep their mouths shut and let everybody else do the talking — undoubtedly knowing full well that all that hot air translates into plenty of free ink and airtime. Pretty savvy for a pair of Motown punks, eh?

Even more surprising is the fact that they could do just fine without the media manipulations. Unlike most bands who excel at generating hype, the Stripes — Jack on guitar and vocals, Meg on drums — have the tunes and talent to back up their PR campaign.

Their first two CDs, 1999’s self-titled debut and 2000’s De Stijl, introduced their stripped-down fusion of rock, blues, punk, country and folk, earning them a place in critics’ hearts and a spot on the roster of indie-rock twosomes next to Royal Trux, Flat Duo Jets and Local H. Their third album White Blood Cells — released in the U.S. last summer but finally getting Canadian distribution this month — is the one that separates them from the pack. Which is not to say it’s a great departure from the rudimentary, uncluttered road they’ve been on. If anything, White Blood Cells offers more of the same — only better. Jack’s guitar is still fuzzed-out and feeding back, and he still flubs notes without turning back. His yelping vocals are still thin, high and sorta weak, frequently breaking and wandering offkey. Meg’s crash-and-bash drumming and broken-watch timekeeping still make The Velvet Underground’s Mo Tucker seem like Neil Peart. And the whole affair sounds like it was recorded in their practice hall in an afternoon.

But none of it means a damn once you hear the songs. This is where they’ve made quantum leaps, both as writers and arrangers. And this is where they’ll hook ya. With smartly constructed, passionately delivered tunes like the trashy blues stomper Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground; the barnburning two-stepper Hotel Yorba; the soulful groove of I’m Finding it Harder to be a Gentleman; the sugar-buzz go-go punk of Fell in Love With a Girl; and the metallic riffage of Expecting, just to name the album’s first five tracks. I could have picked any other songs and it wouldn’t have mattered; from the sweet ’n’ breezy acoustic folk of We’re Going to be Friends to the slashing tango-ska of I Think I Smell a Rat, every tune here is a nugget of indie-rock inspiration and individualism, and they link up into an album so richly textured and varied that it’s impossible to believe only two people are doing the work.

With that much going on between them, who cares what else might be going on?