The WHITE STRIPES – ” Six Studio Albums ” Re-Released From Legacy Recordings

Posted: August 19, 2021 in MUSIC
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Just when it seemed like the US had ceded garage rock – which we invented – to Scandinavia (and Australia), the White Stripes roared to life and proved Detroit still had the goods. After releasing several singles and three albums within the Detroit music scene, the White Stripes rose to prominence in 2002 as part of the garage rock scene.

The White Stripes released their first album in 1999 with their self-titled set. It introduced an eccentric but valid band with bluesy-styled and honest approaches to their original songs. Over time, the duo released six albums, their last being “Icky Thump” in 2007. Last year, the band celebrated the history of The White Stripes with a “Greatest Hits” package released a limited edition collectible vinyl. However, Legacy Recordings will re-release the Third Man Records White Stripes catalogue to brand the previous WB issues with the Legacy brand. There will be no added extras or anything.

The White Stripes used a low fidelity approach to writing and recording. Their music featured a melding of garage rock and blues influences and a raw simplicity of composition, arrangement, and performance. The duo were also noted for their fashion and design aesthetic which featured a simple colour scheme of red, white, and black—which was used on every album and single cover the band released.

Jack White aka (John Anthony Gillis), who first came to prominence as guitarist-vocalist with Detroit, Michigan garage rock revivalist duo, The Dude’s done so much stuff that it’s hard to keep track. After all, White is a musician, record label owner, sculptor, upholsterer, Raconteur, troubadour, (ill-advised) rapper, graphic designer and Lord knows what else. So like, statistically, he probably invented guitars as well.

But before he got into all that he was half of one of the greatest rock bands of all time. Jack played in The White Stripes alongside Meg White, his now ex-partner (though the rumour for a long time was that they were brother and sister). 

Jack is obviously a creative whirlwind capable of doing anything he sets his mind to. This vital energy was ever present throughout The White Stripes’ career, but as his subsequent solo material has shown, creativity which is that unpredictable can benefit from being reigned in and focussed some.

This was where Meg came in. She was often mocked for the supposed simplicity of her drumming, but Meg was the guide rail which ensured that the band maintained their powerful minimalism. It was a drive which ran through six remarkably consistent albums that, even at their least good, still hold up better than Jack’s solo work.

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The White Stripes 

In 1999, the White Stripes signed with the California-based label Sympathy for the Record Industry. In March 1999, they released the single “The Big Three Killed My Baby”, followed by their debut album, “The White Stripes”, on June 15, 1999.

The self-titled debut was produced by Jack and engineered by Jim Diamond at his Ghetto Recorders studio in Detroit. The album was dedicated to the seminal Mississippi Delta Blues musician, Son House an artist who greatly influenced Jack.

The track “Cannon” from The White Stripes contains part of an acapella version, as performed by House, of the traditional American gospel Blues song “John The Revelator”. The White Stripes also covered House’s song “Death Letter” on their follow-up album “De Stijl.”

Looking back on their debut during a 2003 interview with guitar player, Jack said, “I still feel we’ve never topped our first album. It’s the most raw, the most powerful, and the most Detroit-sounding record we’ve made.

White’s voice is a singular, evocative combination of punk, metal, blues, and American backwoods while his guitar work is grand and banging with just enough lyrical touches of Slide and subtle solo work… Meg White balances out the fretwork and the fretting with methodical, spare, and booming cymbal bass drum, and snare.


The White Stripes - De Stijl

De Stijl

While I have a lot of love for the band’s eponymous debut album (1999), it doesn’t quite feel like a proper White Stripes LP. While their debut established the template for the group’s blues/rock/punk hybrid, this was a record made by two musicians very much in the thrall of their influences and less willing to get as weird and varied as they did subsequently.

Second album ‘De Stijl’ (2000) is much more apiece with the rest of their discography. It still has loads of the garage-band bite that made their debut so exciting, but alongside vicious blues numbers such as ‘Hello Operator’ and ‘Jumble, Jumble’ The White Stripes started playing with the softer melodies in songs like ‘Apple Blossom’ and ‘Sister, Do You Know My Name’. Those more naive sounds would become a core part of their style as time went by.

The album ends with a sublime cover of Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Your Southern Can Is Mine’, a tune which is also noteworthy for being the first time you hear Meg singing on a White Stripes track. The band’s vocal dynamics more or less replicate the instrumental balance of power – opposite Jack’s squall, Meg’s controlled singing makes for something of a balm. Meg would sing on a few more songs before her and Jack went their separate ways, and each time she did it made for an album highlight. Only two LPs in, it was already possible to imagine The White Stripes taking over the world.


The White Stripes - White Blood Cells

White Blood Cells

Across sixteen tracks and forty minutes, The White Stripes’ third album masterfully balances the band’s ear for melody with more leftfield impulses. As well as featuring relatively straightforward garage-rock forever-classics like ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, it’s the weirder moments of ‘White Blood Cells’ that have really got their hooks into me. ‘The Union Forever’, for instance – built on open chords and a droning organ, this track sees Jack essentially reading out lines from ‘Citizen Kane’ verbatim. Or ‘Aluminium’, a cut which is just one ridiculously heavy metal (lol) riff repeated ad nauseum while Jack wails into some sort of effects pedal.

‘White Blood Cells’ has gone platinum in the UK and the USA, a fact which suggests that the listening public have a slightly higher tolerance for self-consciously strange music than they are often given credit for. That said, this was also the last time that The White Stripes would sound like a scrappy garage-rock outfit.

They recorded the whole thing in a single four-day blitz, and while it was the first time they had used a twenty-four-track recording studio Jack pointedly asked the engineer “not to make it sound too good.” It doesn’t, which conversely means that it does.


The White Stripes - Elephant

Elephant

As its name implies, ‘Elephant’ is the big one. I’m not sure I can think of a single other song that is as ubiquitous as this album’s runaway lead single ‘Seven Nation Army’ – it’s sung the world over at sport events and political rallies, and to this day it remains one of the tracks Jack White plays most at his own shows. ‘Seven Nation Army’ might be even more ubiquitous than anything by Queen or the Beatles, and I’m sure there are people who will readily sing it without knowing who made it or where it came from. 

True, ‘Seven Nation Army’ is a banger, but don’t let it distract you from the rest of ‘Elephant’. For one thing, this album features some of my favourite guitar solos in rock music – I can sing them all in full. ‘Ball and Biscuit’ presents itself as a pretty standard White Stripes blues groove but stretches itself out across seven-and-a-half minutes by inserting these disgustingly opulent solos in between the verses. While neither the fastest or flashiest shredding you’ll ever hear, the way Jack plays these licks, as though he’s coaxing blood out of a stone, imbues them with this rawness and physicality that feels almost like he’s beating you up. 

Part of the reason ‘Elephant’ hits like it does is because the production is that much meatier than on their previous outings. Recorded in the all-analogue (of course) Toe Rag Studios in London, The White Stripes sound stadium-ready here in a way they’d not done before – which is apt, because just two years later they’d be headlining Glastonbury.


The White Stripes - Get Behind Me Satan

Get Behind Me Satan

It wasn’t unheard of for The White Stripes to play a bit of piano on their records – it’s the only instrument on ‘White Blood Cells’ incredibly moving closer ‘This Protector’ for instance – but they were first and foremost a guitar band. It’s this fact that makes the keys-heavy ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ (2005) such an interesting outlier in their discography. 

This LP does open with one of The White Stripes’ most straightforwardly thrilling garage-rock tracks in ‘Blue Orchid’, a tune whose killer riff Jack manages to turn completely lurid through the use of effects pedals. However, after this the guitars really do fade. ‘Blue Orchid’ is followed by the marimba-led ‘The Nurse’ and the euphoric single ‘My Doorbell’, a cut where Jack hammers out bold piano chords with the same vigour Meg had always played her drums. It’s a real joy, and while you could have a good go pogoing to their earlier material ‘My Doorbell’ is probably also the band’s first and best dance single. 

It’s refreshing to hear a group, who by this point were being venerated as all-time greats, go out of their way to leave their comfort zone. No-one would ever mistake these songs for being made by anyone else, but by moving the instrument that defined them into the background The White Stripes were able to go places they might not have done otherwise – even if one of those places was being weirdly open about having a crush on Rita Hayworth.


The White Stripes - Icky Thump

Icky Thump

This was just a ridiculous album to go out on. 2007’s ‘Icky Thump’ takes its name from some Lancashire slang, the artwork sees the pair dressed as a pearly king and queen, and on top of guitars and drums the record features chintzy horns, droning bagpipes … and only a bloody synthesizer! Despite seeing the guitar return to the centre of the song writing, ‘Icky Thump’ feels meaningfully different from the rest of the group’s discography and in many ways stands as a warning about what Jack’s solo work would sound like.

From the artwork downwards this album is straight showing off, The White Stripes performing up to and at their very limit. Jack is well and truly on one here, laying down mean guitar solo after mean guitar solo, each as potent as the riffs themselves. And what riffs! So many beautiful, bold and brash riffs. ‘Little Cream Soda’, for example, sees The White Stripes trying out thrash metal to find out they like it very much indeed – the combination of guitar and Meg’s fatal drumming is just obscenely heavy. 

But yes, the fact that ‘Icky Thump’ is a little … eccentric suggests Meg’s hold on Jack’s reigns was starting to slip. Fun as it is, ‘Rag and Bone’ is irredeemably cheesy and Meg sounds embarrassed to be contributing to it. It’s really no surprise that this would be their last album, the pair going their separate ways in 2011. Jack has put some of the blame on Meg’s lack of enthusiasm. 

The White Stripes the group’s last three albums ‘Elephant’ (2003); ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ (2005) & ‘Icky Thump’ (2007) each won the Grammy award for ‘Best Alternative Music Album’; UK #1 ‘Elephant’ spent 46 weeks on the UK charts; Jack also formed side projects The Raconteurs & Dead Weather; he is one of the most admired guitarists of the early 21st century & head honcho of his own Nashville-based Third Man Records; after announcing the dissolution of The White Stripes in 2011, Jack released his debut solo album ‘Blunderbuss’ in 2012, followed by ‘Lazaretto’ in 2014 & ‘Boarding House Reach’ in 2018; for his various collaborations & solo work, Jack has won regional, national & international awards, including 12 Grammys; Nashville mayor Karl Dean awarded him the title of ‘Nashville Music City Ambassador’ in 2011; in 2016, he joined Nashville’s 45-member Gender Equality Council.

Legacy will re-release the six albums (The White Stripes – 1999, De Stijl – 2000, White Blood Cells – 2001, Elephant – 2003, Get Behind Me Satan – 2005, Icky Thump – 2007). The DD versions have already been re-released in 2020 so this will be a CD re-release campaign only.

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