Friday, June 11, 2010

White Stripes - De Stijl

Release Date: June 20, 2000

★★★★★ Tracks:

Hello Operator

I just recently watched It Might Get Loud, a documentary featuring three influential guitarists covering three generations: Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, the Edge from U2, and Jack White of the White Stripes. There's a scene where White is showing a young boy (who is supposed to represent White as a kid) some of that great, ear-piercing feedback you can get from an electric guitar and an amplifier; he lays the guitar on the ground and tells the kid to stomp on it with his foot, beat it up, "get in a fight with it, and win that fight." I'm not sure what the hell he means, but I think it has something to do with his belief that music should be a struggle, the theme to most of the scenes he's featured in on the documentary. While I find most of what he says throughout the documentary to be cliché, I do agree with him to a point. Writing and playing music is a struggle.

What I don't understand is how the same argument isn't applied to the other half of his band. Sure, Meg White definitely struggles to play the drums with any sort of skill, but she isn't struggling to hone her craft, and she doesn't add much extra creativity in to the music Jack White creates. I'm not sure most of us would accept the same from a peer in most any other profession, artistically related or otherwise. This is pulled from wiki: "Meg White's minimalistic drumming style is a prominent part of the band's sound. Meg has never taken a lesson. [She] says her pre-show warm-up consists of 'whiskey and Red Bull.'" Being self-taught is great and all, if you actually try and teach yourself. Almost any one of us with just the slightest sense of rhythm could play the drum part to nearly any White Stripes song ever made, within a few minutes of trying.

I disliked the White Stripes for the longest time because of this attention I payed to the drumming; I couldn't get past it. Further fueling my disdain was all the critical appraisal they were receiving. Not only did I not understand how everyone could take a band with such bad drumming so seriously, I couldn't understand why everyone liked music with such simple and familiar song structures.

As the White Stripes have become further ingrained in to rock'n'roll history over the past decade, I've further tried to understand the phenomenon. After countless years and hours spending time with the likes of De Stijl, White Blood Cells, and Elephant I have warmed up to the them. Although I found the small bit of Jack White I got to know through It Might Get Loud to be somewhat irritating, it was revealing to hear him talk about all that classic blues he loves so much. His intentions are to always invoke those simple but powerful emotions good blues artists invoke in a listener. On Jack's best tracks, I think he succeeds admirably in doing so, and that angry rock'n'roll attitude he wears so well can be contagious. While I still think it wouldn't hurt the White Stripes cause to have some improved percussion, I do understand how overly complex drumming would take away from what the White Stripes sound.

The best song for my money still resides on De Stijl. "Hello Operator" is a culmination of everything great about the White Stripes: bluesy guitar work, rock'n'roll solos, catchy lyrics sung with a lot of attitude and infectious inflection, and just enough percussion to add an additional element to Jack's songwriting:

There are a couple of other great tracks like the slide guitar driven "Death Letter" and the ballady "Sister, Do You Know My Name," but all the songs begin to blend together the deeper I get in to the album. I appreciate Jack White's simplistic and refined approach to music, even more so after seeing It Might Get Loud, but the very basic and all-too-familiar chord progressions and the overly-simplistic percussion make it so I lost interest quickly. White Stripes in small doses is quite enough for me. Although I do admit I misunderstood them somewhat at first, and I have grown to like a lot of Jack's tracks, I still think they are one of the most overrated bands of the past decade.

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