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Spotlight On: The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

A look at the Detroit duo's latest CD.


by Dr. Spin
November 11, 2002

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Spotlight On: The White Stripes – <i>White Blood Cells</i>_Dr. Spin-A look at the Detroit duo's latest CD. Just when you thought Rock was getting stale, a new “new wave” has come along to breathe freshness into the genre. With their peppermint candy motif (both members dress in red and/or white), the White Stripes lead this new wave with a gutsy, aggressive third album, White Blood Cells.

Though they may sound like a gimmick band, this brother and sister act brings an edge to their music while stripping Rock to its bare minimum. Jack White is lead singer/guitarist/chief songwriter, and his vocals come across as a mix between Ray Davies and Robert Plant, while Meg White handles drums, percussion, and background vocals. The White Stripes blend Punk, 60’s garage rock, country, and blues with a deftness not heard in many larger bands.

White Blood Cells starts out with the brooding “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” a song of lost love. “Dead leaves and the dirty ground/when I know you’re not around,” pines Jack. “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.” With moody lyrics and a crunching guitar, “ Dead Leaves” is a powerful opener.

The Stripes quickly contrast that by following up with “Hotel Yorba,” a countrified little acoustic number that’s as cheerful as “Dead Leaves” is sad. “Yorba” is a good-time song with a sing-along feel to it. It is a testament to the band’s talent that they can pull both songs off skillfully and successfully.

But it is the fourth track, the snarling “Fell In Love With a Girl,” where the Stripes really show their teeth. Jack’s sardonic and flippant lyrics are matched by aggressive guitar work and sister Meg’s thrashing beat. “Can't think of anything to do/my left brain knows that all love is fleeting/she's just looking for something new/and I said it once before, but it bears repeating.” To quote Spinal Tap, the White Stripes “go to eleven” on this one.

Other gems on White Blood Cells are “We’re Going to Be Friends,” where Jack expresses the innocent excitement of a child finding a new best friend, “Now Mary,” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known.”

But White Blood Cells does get bogged down. “Aluminum” is a dreadful, droning instrumental, “Union Forever” seems misguided, and the rhyme scheme of “I Smell a Rat” is suspect. One gets the feeling that the Stripes were trying to show how clever they are, especially with “Little Room” which is under a minute long.

Though the one guitar and drums gives White Blood Cells a rougher edge and a sense of urgency lacking in much of today’s mainstream music, it does gets a little tedious after 16 songs (even if most are under three minutes), and some songs could have benefited from a good bass line to help anchor them. Consequently, the album sometimes comes across as more of a demo CD than an actual studio release.

Some careful editing could have paired White Blood Cells down to about 10 essential tracks and made this a much better album. Still, Cells shows a lot of promise; Jack White’s ability to adapt different “voices” in his songwriting as well as the band’s willingness to morph into other styles give the White Stripes a depth not found often enough in today’s music. Hopefully the White Stripes will continue to grow and mature as a band. If so, they may prove to be one of the best bands of the new millennium.

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