V2/Third Man Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/08/2003
Like the class valedictorian, you can't help but feel a bit of resentment/jealousy to the White Stripes. Their inherent coolness is unquestionable. They recorded their latest album, Elephant for about $10,000. Jack and Meg White profess a deep love for some of the coolest icons of country music: Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton. They've been basically exempt from the backlash other 'The' bands, such as The Strokes and The Hives have suffered. All the adoration makes you want to ask, "Are they really that good?"
Well, if you're looking for a reason to hate the band, you will probably have to look elsewhere than Elephant. Sure, it contains much of the art-deco pretension of their earlier releases, such as De Stijl and White Blood Cells, but the album also contains some of the loosest, bluesiest and flat-out rocking songs in the Stripes catalog. Jack White's infectious swagger in the seven-minute jam fest, "Ball and Biscuit" is enough to shake most of the elitist trappings the band occasionally succumbs to.
White Blood Cells was a surprise hit last year. However, a big reason for that is because of their fashion sense and their videos (most of the population see the White Stripes as "The Lego" band from their landmark video, "Fell in Love With a Girl"). With Elephant, the band could have buckled from their hype. Instead, they actually took advantage of their artistic freedom and experimented with lower guitar sounds, almost bordering on sounding like a throbbing bass (see "Seven Nation Army"). Meg White even refines her drumming skills to create a powerful whallop in most of the tracks on Elephant (let's face it, for most of their three previous albums, Meg White's drumming was as subtle as a falling piano).
Meg White finally gets a chance to helm the lead vocals in the creepy track, "In the Cold, Cold Night." It is one of her many highlights in Elephant. Still, her shining moment is her hyper-drive drumming in "You Have No Faith In Medicine."
If you can consider them flaws, The White Stripes' cleverness in Elephant can sound contrived to some listeners. In the closing track, "Well, It's True That We Love Another," Jack and Meg playfully structure the song around their much-publicized relationship. A self-help voice-over is played before the band rips into "Little Acorns" is a nice novelty, but you find yourself fast-forwarding it to the music.
Still, if you question the band's sincerity, listen to their incredible cover of Burt Bacharach's "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," or Jack White's heartfelt lyrics on "I Want to be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart." In the liner notes, the band dedicated Elephant to the death of the sweetheart. In this age of irony, you will have to judge for yourself on whether or not the band is being sincere. Personally, it's far more fun just to discard the pretension and let Elephant rock you where it counts.