Last year's White Stripes release De Stijl is stomping and
wailing, bouncing off the windows in my car. Curtailing the
possibility of conversation with my passenger, I turn it up. This is
no background music. It requires undivided attention. The album ends.
I turn to my boyfriend and say: "You know, he kind of sounds like
And to this he who first heard Led Zeppelin
through headphones as an infant defensively snarls: "You
better be careful what you say that's a very bold statement."
I have been warned.
One week later, White Blood Cells, the new
record from the White Stripes (vocalist/guitarist/pianist Jack White
and drummer Meg White), booms about my apartment. As they abandon the
excellently raw blues sound of their last album, the Led Zeppelin
influence is even stronger now. My boyfriend, unwontedly, agrees.
White Stripes drummer Meg White told me the new album would be
country-ish. But try all they may with Plant-style, choked-up
vocals leading the way the easygoing sounds of country just
don't shine through. Sure, you've got Johnny Cash-like guitar plucks
and a country drum beat on "Now Mary," but I just don't hear country
in Jack White's strained, desperate wails. While maintaining the raw simplicity and amazing stomping rhythm that's the crux of the Detroit duo's signature sound, White Blood Cells stands apart from past releases not because it's country, but because it rocks hard in a heavy '70s hard-rock vein.
On the same night we agreed the Led Zeppelin influence did, with much weight, exist, we played lead track "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" and Led Zeppelin's "Gallows Pole" back-to-back. Together, we smirked and laughed because, intentionally or not, the songs are blatantly the same. On the other
hand, "Hotel Yorba" is ingenious. Listening to it makes me happy as a
child. Every time its speedy, stomping drum beat kicks off, I can't
help but jump up, clap my hands, dance merrily and sing along: "Well
it's 1, 2, 3, 4/ Take the elevator/ At the Hotel Yorba/ I'll be glad
to see you later/ ... And it's 4, 5, 6, 7/ Grab your umbrella/ Grab
hold of me/ 'Cause I'm your favorite fella."
"Hotel Yorba" is severely catchy, cleverly written and enticingly happy-go-lucky
such pure fun. On the flip side, "Union Forever," influenced
by the Orson Welles masterpiece "Citizen Kane," uses dreary keying,
dark guitar riffs and solemn speak-singing to convey the subject
matter's gravity: "Well I'm sorry but I'm not/ Interested in gold
mines/ Oil wells, shipping or real estate/ What would I like to have
been?/ Everything you hate."
The White Stripes are two very talented people with a dedication to the beauty inside musical simplicity (two people calling themselves brother and sister, rumored to be a divorced couple but really that's beside the point and who cares). With De Stijl they emphasized a return to minimalism
in blues (think Robert Johnson and John Lee Hooker). With White
Blood Cells they prove two instruments and a simplified approach
can translate into heavy, electrified rock 'n' roll too. In sum, if a
hardcore Zeppelin fan can appreciate the new album (rip-off or not),
you can too.