Saturday, June 14, 2014

The White Stripes

Throughout the seven decades of rock and roll, there has always been garage rock.  It has never gone away even from the heydays of 60s garage rockers such as the Standells or Louie Louie Kingsmen. The more absurd the more fun (The Trashmen Surfin Bird, local Keokuk freakouts Gonn, Blackout Of Gretely, a more muted version of Dirty Water by The Standells). And there's plenty of historical overviews out there that celebrates the three chords and the truth bands from the garage, from Nuggets to Pebbles and even Teenage Shutdown  which really turns every rock out there to find the most  obscure garage rock band that practiced enough songs to make it to the corner tavern and then quit to get real jobs the next day.  While the major labels don't pursue the local garage band (not enough autotuner or bro country rap) many toil in obscurity.  Thank your lucky stars for Little Steven's Underground Garage which for a time, had his own Wicked Cool label to spotlight the garage rock bands as well as putting out a few volumes of The Coolest Songs In The World, the last decade's version of Nuggets and are found cheap at thrift stores.  The best of the bunch Len Price 3 and this year's The Strypes have put out new albums of garage rock fusion to indifference attitude sales and shrugs.  And so did Jack White this week with Lazaretto.

In the so called garage rock movement of the late 90s and early 00's,  the major labels did sign bands of this genre. And most was blah and missing something special.  The Strokes come to mind with Is This It? to which was the first thing I said after hearing it.  The White Stripes quietly came out of the late 90s with a low fi first album on Sympathy For The Record Industry, a label more associated with the more radical indee labels out there (Merge, Touch And Go, Taang! to name a few).  In no way did the Stripes rewrite the music book on how to make it in the music industry.  Hell, nobody even predicted that they would go far.  They were just another garage rock band intent on selling a few thousand copies of their album and then see how far it would go.

Basically it was a duo of Jack and Meg White, husband and wife.  Jack, a music lover of the blues, Nuggets and Pebbles garage rock, and of course early Robert Plant, but Jack also played drums for semi legends Goober And The Peas before meeting and marrying Meg and taking her surname.  And then managed to get her playing drums for the The White Stripes project.  Jack could play just about anything on guitar or piano or drums, but Meg White's drumming can be described as sloppy at best.  She could barely keep a beat and she would have never lasted in any other band but somehow, it worked best in the White Stripes recordings. But it seems like when I hear Icky Thump or Get Behind Me Satan, it sounded she didn't touch her drums since the last recording or live performance.

The first four White Stripes albums are testamentary classic albums upon themselves. The low fi approach to the S/T and De Stiji shows that anybody with a four track and good songs can make a great album. White Blood Cells in 2001, the press and trade papers took notice, as well as help from V2 Records and they managed to get a hit single with Fell In Love With A Girl.  Elephant is their classic moment.  The riff of Seven Nation Army has become a sporting event chant in college football stadiums all over the US, thus guaranteeing Jack White a nice check every month. Ball And Biscuit being the other major hit off this record which does in someway pays tribute to the electric blues and Zeppelin of course.

However, the last two albums are not aged very well.  Get Behind Me Satan was more acoutsic guitar and  piano driven and contains some of the worst Meg White drumming committed on record.   Icky Thump, their last, I liked at first but then it grated on my nerves.  It had its moments as well but not enough for me to recommend it.  And then, Meg White either developed a fear of the stage or just got bored with it all and wanted to settle down out of the spotlight and The White Stripes were no more in 2011.  While Meg got remarried, Jack White continued to be more busier than ever by embarking on two band projects, The Raconteurs with Brendan Benson and the members of The Greenhornes and The Dead Weather with Alison Mosshart.  And of course, two solo albums as well.  But perhaps what is best about this all, is how much that Jack White loves vinyl enough to open up a music store (Third Man Records of course) and making a whole array of vinyl art, the new Lazaretto albums has a hologram of an angel when you play the album.  And White has worked with a whole array of artists  from the past (Wanda Jackson, Loretta Lynn, Neil Young).  And enjoys working with vintage music equipment to make his albums sound a lot different from the pro tools autotuned crap of this millennium. 

In some ways, Jack White is perhaps this generation of a real rock star.  17 years after The White Stripes first album, he has managed to progress onward with a wide variety of ideals borrowed from the past and looking toward the future.  With Neil Young, he recorded A Letter Home from old recording booth to voice your own records, which was used in fairs in the late 40s and 50s.  And continues to put out vinyl of one offs, namely a Jerry Lee Lewis in store performance.  White is the anti Spotify, the pro record junkie and it's a shame there's not many more like him.  I won't say if The White Stripes were the best out of the garage rock wave of the 2000's but they were the more longer lasting and influential. 

And perhaps the most fun.

The White Stripes (Third Man 1999) A-
De  Stiji (Third Man 2000) A-
White Blood Cells (Third Man 2001) A-
Elephant (Third Man 2003) A
Get Behind Me Satan (Third Man 2005) B-
Icky Thump (Third Man/WB 2008) B

Jack White:
Blunderbuss (Third Man/Columbia 2012) A-
Lazaretto (Third Man/Columbia 2014) A-

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