BLACK, RED & WHITE
Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:27 May 2022
One of the great things about rock is the way certain styles reinvent themselves, inspiring new generations. The White Stripes were leaders in a garage rock revival in the late 1990s. If you’re not sure what that might mean, have a listen to "Strychnine" by The Sonics (1965) or "Complication" by Monks (1966). There is a raw, almost unhinged energy in the best garage rock that transcends time. Jack and Meg White harnessed that force with Jack’s impassioned vocals and distorted guitar wailing over Meg’s primitive tribal drumming.
By the early 2000s The White Stripes were being lionised in the UK as the most exciting live act in the world. Not bad for an apprentice upholsterer and a middle class waitress who for some unaccountable reason pretended to be siblings rather than the married couple they’d been since 1996. This was a full three years before their debut album was released on Sympathy for the Record Industry, a small independent whose insignia carries unsettling evocations of Third Reich symbolism. Red, Black, White.
Red, White, Black. That takes us directly to the colour/design aesthetic of The White Stripes. As has been well reported, Jack was inspired by a Dutch art movement founded in 1917. De Stijl—"The Style" in English—provided the name of the Stripes second album and a consistent visual theme for all the duo’s presentations: clothes, instruments, album covers, confectionary.
Back to the debut LP.
From the moment "Jimmy the explorer" bursts out of the speakers with it’s frantic Hoo Hoo Hoo Hoo chorus, you know you are in for a retro-ride of industrial power. That this opener flows straight into the blues legend Robert Johnson’s classic "Stop breaking down" says a great deal about Jack White’s taste and influences. The blues infuses everything, vibrantly, energetically, youthfully. Also in the mix are Captain Beefheart’s disregard for convention and some Led Zeppelin power beats stripped back to their skeleton.
Yet despite this elemental blues stomping, there is variety on The White Stripes debut. "Wasting my time" finds Jack in a more pensive mood, leaving space in the mix to appreciate a song of farewell. Wonder if Meg read the signs, even back then. Across the album JW plays slide, electric guitar, piano and sings, of course. Everything is pushed into the red. In some ways distortion is the unifying sonic factor.
Over on side two, the cover of Dylan’s "One more cup of coffee" (from Desire) is brilliant; White has a talent for squeezing the drama out of songs, and of twisting emotion from his distorted guitar.
With seventeen songs squeezed onto an LP that clocks in at a shade under 44 minutes, there is plenty of music to explore. This debut is a strong, attention-grabbing statement of intent. We’re here to shake you awake to the sound of turn-of-the-century blues, Meg and Jack shout. We’re here to testify to the power of primordial chords, to stun you with the potency of a duo focussed on delivering their sermon. We’re here to straddle white and black and invigorate the red blood coursing through your veins. We’re exploding out of the garage and into your world.
© Bruce Jenkins 2022