Release Date: 04.01.03
Record label: V2 / BMG
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
Quite Good, But...
by: bill aicher
The White Stripes sudden rise to fame with their third album, White Blood Cells over the past two years put them as the most critically-acclaimed of the new "the" band movement, as well as the most popular. While The Strokes saw their sun rise and set fairly quickly, The Stripes took years of work and fanbase-building before they finally broke. And, as rumors of their fourth album, Elephant began to surface ("Meg's going to sing!" / "Jacks' going to have a guitar solo!" / "Holly Golightly's guesting!"), it became evident that, should Elephant outperform White Blood Cells sonically, it would be the album to solidify Jack and Meg Whites' position in rock history.
Thankfully, Elephant has succeeded in surpassing White Blood Cells (and basically everything else they, and just about everything anyone else in recent history has done). And, while Elephant isn't a departure from The White Stripes' tried and true "guitar and drum" minimalist blues / garage rock formula, it is a nearly perfect end result.
The album's opener and first single, "Seven Nation Army" starts things out well enough with a simple bass line from Jack and a steady drum beat from Meg. But what's most notable here, and throughout the album (even more than usual), is Jack's songwriting. There's a bit of innocence underlying just about everything he says, as well as how he says it, but there's also a harsh sting of reality in this innocence. Again, rather than falling prey to the tired rock and roll cliche's of "rocking out and getting wasted" found so often in similar-sounding acts, The White Stripes stretch into the underpinnings of simple love and emotion.
Then again, Elephant couldn't quite be considered a step forward for the band if it were simply a rehash of past glories. And even though "Hypnotise" follows unbelievably closely in the footsteps of "Fell In Love With a Girl," there is something different going on here. "In the Cold Cold Night," for example, we find Meg's meekish voice at the forefront; her first turn at vocals, although not groundbreaking, is just as necessary here as a bit of a balancer than anything else. Not to mention there's something quite sweet about the moment.
The album's highest point, however, is the extensive rocker (7+ minutes) of "Ball and Biscuit." It's The White Stripes at their rock-iest, and features some of the gnarliest guitar work Jack's ever done. With its classic blues feel, and overt sexual overtones, it's as raw and gritty as the band gets and it's at this point that you feel you can just about reach out and grab the music as it crashes through your speakers.
Still, many positive words have been spoken about Elephant. So much praise has been poured on to it, that there's a definite risk of backlash from those who may feel a bit misled. To read reviews elsewhere, one may think this is the end all, be all, album of the year. And this is where I have to disagree. While Elephant is truly an amazing album, and transcends simple categorization of The White Stripes as "one of those 'the' bands," I can't help but feel the heapings of praise have been a bit too much. In fact, I can't help but feel the majority of the critical praise lies in the fact that many critics have been using Elephant as an excuse to say once and for all, "I told you so!"
There's a bit of a gimmick to The White Stripes, and all the pilings of critical praise aren't going to make up for the fact that eventually Elephant, like White Blood Cells can get to feel a bit boring and repetive. Not to say Elephant is undeserving of praise, but you'll not find me saying The White Stripes are the only band that matters right now. 09-Apr-2003 4:53 PM