Thursday, 3 February 2011
STARS & STRIPES
It's in black and white, that's it.
By Tim David Harvey
This can't be it. The hiatus was just meant be a break, Jack White's side projects exactly that, Meg's troubles behind her. We where supposed to be expecting a brand new album around now. Still, this week one of rock and rolls greatest bands, The White Stripes, called it quits. After an incredible 13 years, we the fans have been nothing but lucky.
Right from the start, Jack and Meg, where original, innovative and ahead of the pack. A two-piece able to rock crowds just as much as a full, heavy ensemble. A group before their time, all whilst sounding like a classic act. These two played music by their own rules, and the hallmarks of the rock industry was changed because of this. Pure rock and roll, these White Stripes, saw red and wore what they wanted on stage. From colour schemes, to 'Are they sister and brother, or lovers', Jack and Meg compromised for no one. They revitalisied modern day music, all whilst showing new MTV generations what mum and dads old records used to sound like, without risking their reputation or status from the charts to the ipods.
Back in the early 2000's The Stripes, along with The Hives and The Strokes where responsible for bringing the old sound of rock and roll to the modern day mainstream. This had repercussions, from the way kids dressed to the records they brought and dug up. It wasn't about having to be new anymore, vintage was back in and a new fashion and culture was in effect. Sure The Hives brought the self assurity and The Strokes brought the style, but The White Stripes brought the substance. There was just something about them, Jack and Meg where on a different level and they weren't stopping there. From their self-titled debut to 'De Stili' and 'White Blood Cells' the pair, doubled up on their success with a trio of terrific discs. From 'One More Cup Of Coffee' to 'Death Letter', with incredible album tracks, the band got up and delivered a rich quantity of quality right to the end. It was the single 'Fell In Love With A Girl', however that really took the duo places. Sure the track was barely a minute and a half long, but it was so catchy it felt like more in an enjoyable way. Then with fans falling in love with the pair the Stripes where bordering on greatness. That's when the 'Elephant' came into the room.
This animal was a monster two, their biggest an arguably best record, The White Stripes stripped it all down and bared true rock and roll in all it's glory. Who needs computers when you have a guitar, a drum kit and a 'Seven Nation Army' behind you? With an incredibly inventive song and video to boot it was clear this boy and girl from Detroit where about to become more of an influence. You can still see today from car adverts to young bands with scraggly hair and attitude that these carbon copies are as readily available as credit card storage facilities. Still no matter the numbers, there hasn't been an army as strong as Jack and Meg. They gave the Motor City of North America it's first real sound since Motown.
The 'Elephant' didn't stop stomping there however. With hits like the bluesy 'I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself' and the catchy, instrumental growing, 'The Hardest Button To Button', the Stripes made a home on the mainstream. They showcased their ability to write simple, but thought provoking songs that where catchy enough to hold the ear of the charts. Their ability to do this mirrored rock and roll's forefathers like The Beatles and The Stones and this will be reflected further over the coming generations.
The bands fourth album also featured a set of memorable, diverse album tracks that will be favourites among fans memory banks for years. 'Little Acorns' was the perfect pick me up and who would of thought you could feel better about yourself by 'being like the squirrel'? If you thought Jack's voice was distinct then 'Elephant' prepared you for what else the group had in the trunk. Meg's beautiful, vocal ability was displayed in the seductively, sincere 'In The Cold, Cold, Night' and the playful 'It's True That We Love One Another', where Jack and Meg had fun with the family, friends or more debate.
After a devilishly good release, the Stripes followed up with the heavenly, 'Get Behind Me Satan'. After such a big album previously, fans and critics where asking if the guys could do it again. The couple answered the call with the ring of the infectious 'Doorbell', which showed that they didn't just have their foot in the door, they had kicked it down. The critics, fans, chart and industry as a whole wanted to hear from them. The Stripes responded loud and clear, planting 'Blue Orchid' and 'The Denial Twist' into the conscious of the mainstream. Plus with great tracks across the board like the haunting, 'Little Ghost', the illuminating 'White Moon' and 'Take, Take, Take', the pairs success was a given.
Then came a brief break and some things on the side, but in 2006 Jack and Meg got back together for 'Icky Thump', their last album (excusing the lavish live CD/DVD set 'Under Great White Northern Lights'). The title track off the album was a fantastic, few guitar solo, formidable, return to form. The 'out there' act pushed the envelope further with the classic, 'Conquest' and evoked an epic sound on 'Catch Hell'. Even after all this time The White Stripes where still red hot and on top.
The group have always had an ear for timeless music, as well as other peoples classics. Their incredible take on Dolly Parton's 'Jolene' can attest to that. They also had a knack of writing and singing catchy songs that instantly captured the audience. Those kind of sweet and innocent songs that sound like they've been around for years and could perfectly fit in jukebox's of decades past. The nostalgic 'We're Going To Be Friends' is a gentle favourite that Jack Johnson and others have covered. It's such a timeless classic, that you have to look twice at the credits and realise it's a Stripes original, that's just how good they are. The group on the flip side of the coin could still go mettle to metal with the heavier tracks, like 'Little Cream Soda'. Even on short, interlude like tracks such as, 'Passive Manipulation' the band made the most. Their concentrated style was the perfect mix.
Even on their B-sides the band brought a collection of classics for the discography. Just check out 'Shelter Of Your Arms' off 'The Denial Twist' single. It's good to know that the bands record company plan to release B-side material over the years, but still it just won't be the same. With great videos from bull fights to Kate Moss, the Stripes did whatever they wanted, all whilst staying in fashion. The fashion they helped create. Jack and Meg even branched out. As Meg got married Jack found solace, 'A Quantum Of Solace' that is with Alicia Keys. White crossed styles and genres for the stellar Bond theme 'Die Another Day'. Jack also built more houses with two great bands. First he went 'Steady As She Goes' with the incredible Raconteurs. Then he joined a fellow Raconteur, with a Queen Of The Stone Age and a female front that 'kills' for the dark, heavy group, The Dead Weather. Both side projects, where and are great bands in their own right and two great albums each can prove that. This writer was lucky enough to attend a Dead Weather show in 2009 and as White headed from the skins (oh yeah, he drums two) to the stage to sing 'You Just Can't Win' (another great B-side) the crowd went wild. They went wild, yes for a legend of rock that has made the most out of everything he's done, but one who also was birthed by a little group, with his very good friend Meg. All in all there's no Jack without Meg and no Meg without Jack.
You see there is just nothing quite like The White Stripes. If this is truly it, no Hives, Strokes or new acts work will replace Jack and Meg, no matter how good they are. Sure, the classics will always exist as long as we play them, but after 'Icky Thump' and White's recent run, the new album that was supposed to come out was and really will be more sought after now. Maybe they'll change their mind and head back to the studio for one more for the fans, besides it's hard to stop Jack from working. Plus groups get back together all the time, even pop acts that swore they would never rekindle get back in the studio, even if no one wants them to. Still as of right now, The White Stripes are done and without them lining our hi-fi's, C.D. racks and playlists anymore, the state of music today just got a little less brighter...again.