by Tate Blackmore
I'm still very suspicious of the White Stripes. Like fish-flopping Mike Patton and his piano demolishing Faith No More band mates before them, The White Stripes seem like they're both the most brilliant young band on the planet and a big joke on us. The divorced couple, pose as brother and sister and model their wardrobe after those hard mints you get after dining at Pizza Hut, seemed poised at any moment to step back and say, "We're just fooling around, and you guys bought it!"
However, for now they're staying mum and continue to bait us along with Elephant, their fourth studio album. When Jack and Meg White first appeared on the scene, the typical observation was, "where's the bass player?" The Whites have answered back by opening Elephant with an ominous bass thumping along in the kick-ass opener and lead off single, Seven Nation Army. The bass, actually a guitar played through an octave pedal, signals a new, more powerful sounding White Stripes.
Elephant was recorded in London in ten days on equipment the Beatles would have scoffed at as being outdated while recording Sgt. Pepper's. But the aptly titled Elephant packs a wallop with skuzzy rockers Black Math, a sassy punker with wild hooks, and Ball and Biscuit, a riff-tastic blues jam. Both tunes feature searing guitar solos by Jack White, showing he can do more than four power chord songs like, Fell in Love with a Girl, their break out hit from last year.
The White Stripes are confident here and sweat it through your speakers with each pounding tune. One only hopes that fellow garage rockers The Strokes and The Hives can pull of the same on their upcoming make-or-break sophomore efforts. Though, Elephant isn't without its downsides. By track three, that sense of "Are they just screwing with us?" resurfaces with the high soaring There's No Home For You Here. The guitar line is curiously similar to The Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground, from their previous effort, White Blood Cells. However, the nice high harmonies and catchy new chorus give the song a nice facelift. And just when doubt begins to melt away, the Stripes give Burt Bacharach's I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself a good thrashing. It's a fine cover, but seems more fitting as a single B-side.
Petty fears aside, the only "skip it" track on Elephant is Meg White's singing debut, In the Cold, Cold, Night. While penning the creeping ballad for her, Jack should have explained that in order to sing you have to actually move your lips. No matter, Meg fairs much better on Well It's True That We Love One Another, a swinging Mama's and the Papa's sing-along with guest vocalist Miss Holly Golightly.
All in all, Elephant is a tight collection of blues, punk, and lush pop delivered with a stylish and childish-type quirkiness that still leaves us guessing about the mysterious duo. In the end, it's one of the best albums so far this year, so it doesn't really seem to matter at all, if in fact, the joke is on us.
On the run from Johnny Law...it ain't no trip to Cleveland!