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White Blood Cells

music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: White Blood Cells

Artist: White Stripes
Genre: Rock
Release Date: January 2002

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

The White Stripes' White Blood Cells was one of the most compelling CDs of 2001. The White Stripes are Jack and Meg White, a brother and sister(if you believe them) or former romantic couple(if you believe the rock press) from Detroit. Guitar player Jack and drummer Meg are White Stripes' only musicians. Even with only two musicians, White Stripes create an exciting rock sound. Working in styles that range from headbanger rock to sensitive singer/songwriter pop, idiosyncratic Jack throws out one catchy short song after another. White Blood Cells overflows with hooks and Jack White's bizarre but strangely likable personality. It's always interesting.

On White Blood Cells, Jack White comes across as an unpolished, talented weirdo bursting with ideas. He cultivates the image of the lone guitar fanatic, opening the CD on Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground sounding like a high school kid jamming through a cheap amp, playing a riff that sounds that the one from Chicago's 25 or 6 to 4 or maybe Ziggy Stardust. When Meg's drums kick in, Jack's still jamming on basic power chords and sounding, with his thin, quavery voice, like he's a kid doing a bad Bowie impression, but he's making a big guitar sound. Jack's writing is simple but it has a fresh perspective, simultaneously communicating eccentricity and pure romantic attraction. He sings that it's "dead leaves and the dirty ground when I know you're not around, shiny tops and soda pops when I hear your lips make a sound."

Jack White likes to play the rock guitar god. He slowly crunches power chords on Expecting while he rants about a woman who controls him to the extent that she can order him away to Toledo. But White never stays in a musical idiom for too long, so he immediately follows with the very simple Little Room(which White Stripes put in the middle of Fell In Love With A Girl to stretch out the song when they played Letterman). Little Room has no guitar and only Meg's cymbals to accompany Jack's short message about success: once you move from your little room to a bigger room "you might have to think of how you got started sitting in your little room." The Union Forever slowly plows forward so you can feel Jack's pain as he shrieks, "there is no true love" but in the middle, he goofily throws in a long quote from a scene(the same one quoted by a Simpsons episode) from Citizen Kane. On Offend In Every Way, Jack keeps the notes, chords and rhymes simple as he sadly relates that "no matter what I do, no matter what I say", he offends. Alternating between a spanish guitar riff and pounding chords, Jack sounds Iike he's being silly on I Think I Smell A Rat but he's apparently dead serious as he, with a sentiment like The Replacements expressed on Bastards Of Young, decries kids "using your mother and father for a welcome mat." White Blood Cells generally provides its indulgent rock jamming in small doses or gives it fun touches. The CD only really tests my patience at the 3/4 mark with the instrumental(except for yelled aahs) Aluminum, which experiments annoyingly with a trail of heavily amped, slowly played rock guitar notes and feedback, and the fairly routine rock bravado("who do you think you're messing with girl?") of I Can't Wait, which is only of interest to me when he starts to sound like a pissed off John Lennon. I prefer the Lennon similarity on This Protector. Jack, accompanied only by his basic piano, sings about how weird it is, considering the "many thoughts inside my head", when he has to take the role of protector for someone even more prone to weird imaginings than he is.

White Blood Cells is often a lot of fun. Hotel Yorba is a buoyant raveup with Jack's straining but joyful voice and a loose melody like Subterranean Homesick Blues' or Country Joe singing "1,2,3 what are we fighting for". Jack White loves a big, slow hard rock sound but he also knows how to make a perfect no frills pop song. Clocking in at 1:45, Fell In Love With A Girl is still a complete rock experience. Banging on his guitar fast and loud and screaming about a girl with "red hair with a curl", White recalls the spirit of early rock by stripping away any excess to find a pure rock essence. He also evokes the giddiness of new love as he sings about the thrill of ignoring the left brain's message that love is fleeting. Meg White's drumming is basic but it effectively matches the simple, rambunctious sound. Jack doesn't use any of his vocal mannerisms on Now Mary, a 60s style mod rocker, as he invites his "mate" to even things up by disappointing him after he let her down. Jack unleashes galloping guitar lines over Meg's cymbal crashes.

Jack White likes hard rockers and fast, poppy fun but two of my favorite songs on White Blood Cells are ballads in the tradition of sincere yet self mocking, unsteady voiced artists like The Kinks' Ray Davies and Pavement's Stephen Malkmus. For someone who can come across as weird and glib, White's writing can be surprisingly poignant. On The Same Boy You've Always Known, White shyly talks to a girl, admitting "I guess I haven't grown." The power chords kick in but White's sad defeatism continues and he concludes: "if there's anything good about me, I'm the only one who knows." White is particularly comfortable working from a child's perspective. Idealizing youth, White sweetly sings on We're Going To Be Friends about innocently spending time with a girl from school, finding bugs, walking to school "all by ourselves" and having a teacher mark "our heights against the wall."

The only recent band I know of who makes a rock sound as big as The White Stripes' with only a guitar player and a drummer are Local H. But White Stripes' songs and personality blow away Local H. Jack White is sometimes annoying when he expresses his harder rocking impulse but he's generally a fascinating character with interestingly diverse musical tastes. White Blood Cells is unpredictable and fun.



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