The White Stripes - White Blood Cells (Cover Artwork)

The White Stripes

White Blood Cells (2001)

Sympathy For The Record Indust

The White Stripes are another of the handful of garage rock revivalists who have garnered both formidable critical acknowledgement and commercial success. The task before me is to decide whether or not these things are deserved.

The White Stripes were formed in 1997 in the good old Motor City, which just happens to have one of the best garage rock track records. The Stripes themselves are a quite potent mixture of garage and blues, with obvious roots in both punk and folk. This mixture is by no means revolutionary, but still, they do a pretty damn good job with it. What does make them stick out more than the average punk-blues band is the fact that there are only two members: vocalist/guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White. What further adds interest is the widely-held notion they are brother and sister, which contradicts the less-known rumor that this isn't true and that they were once married.

White Blood Cells, their third full-length album, shows considerable growth over their previous two outings, particularly in Jack's songwriting. While the blues influence is a bit lacking this time around, it has its place and this place is very well served. The album opens in a big way with the semi-sweet love song "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground", which begins with some mashed, crunching chords then drops into a rather mellow progression that features lyrics such as "Soft hair and a velvet tongue/I want to give you what you give to me/And every breath that is in your lungs is a tiny little gift to me" before it lifts back into the heavy chords. Country-tinged "Hotel Yorba" and the ode to the all-but-forgotten practice of chivalry, "I'm Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman", follow right into the hit single of the record, the crazed pop of "Fell In Love With A Girl".

There probably isn't a soul who hasn't heard "Fell In Love With A Girl", but it does stand out as one of the most potent tracks on the album, hence I must comment on it. The driving guitar riffage and choppy drums mixed with Jack White's warbling vocals would make this the near-perfect pop song regardless of the lyrics, but with lines such as "Red hair with a curl/Mellow roll for the flavor and eyes for peeping/Can't keep away from the girl/These two sides of my brain need to have a meeting/Can't think of anything to do/My left brain knows that all love is fleeting/She's looking for something new/And I said it once before but it bares repeating." this song won't be leaving your head anytime soon.

The nearly-as-slow-as-Sabbath "Expecting" has the tough distinction of following up the great song previous to it, but the contrast in speed serves as an interesting change in pace for the album. Next is the fifty-second "Little Room" which is nothing but driving drums and the lyrics "Well you're in your little room // and you're working on something good // but if it's really good // you're gonna need a bigger room // and when you're in the bigger room // you might not know what to do // you might have to think of // how you got started // sitting in your little room" which seems to apply quite well to their current success. The moody "The Union Forever", complete with Citizen Kane references and strange breakdown which features only light percussion, is one of my favorite tracks on the album.

The rather forgettable "The Same Boy You've Always Known" leads into the really good acoustic tune "We're Going to Be Friends". "Offend In Every Way" is an equally good tune that mixes western guitars with a dark tinge, something reminiscent of Johnny Cash. "I Think I Smell a Rat" is another good tune, with its chainsaw strumming and rather vicious lyrics. "Aluminum" follows with some heavy, doomy mashing. The last four songs are all pretty mellow, but each in their own way, which is a great way to close the mostly fairly revved up, somewhat manic songs that proceeded.

The band may be slightly over-hyped, but for the most part they are quite deserving of what they've gotten this past year. The question isn't that they are getting press they don't deserve, it is that equally good or better bands aren't getting the press they do deserve. Meanwhile, fairly crappy bands like the Vines are getting as much acclaim and the Strokes are getting way more than their fair share, being a somewhat decent band but getting more critical patronage than the Stripes. If you wrote this band off, you may want to give "White Blood Cells" a chance and go pick it up. While saying it is one of the best albums in the mainstream right now isn't exactly saying much, it holds its own against the most of the abums more underground bands are offering at the moment.

Review originally from Mediaocre Industries, where the players play.