Photo by Amanda Koellner
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Art is subjective. Music and movies aren’t about competition; they’re about artistic expression. Well, for those of you who know better than to believe those lies, welcome to another installment of Vs. This time, our staff argue over Jack White’s best recording project.
Today marks the release of Dodge and Burn, The Dead Weather’s third album and the follow-up to 2010’s Sea of Cowards. With The Kills’ Alison Mosshart out front and Jack White on drums, plus Dean Fertita on guitar and Jack Lawrence on bass, The Dead Weather is one of four core Jack White recording projects, the first being The White Stripes, followed by The Raconteurs, then The Dead Weather, and finally the solo work of 2012’s Blunderbuss and its 2014 follow-up, Lazaretto. White, steady as he goes, doesn’t let up.
White has been a favorite subject of this website for years and for good reason. He was one of the first modern rock stars who many of our staff members grew up with. The choruses and riffs of The White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Girl” and “Seven Nation Army” shattered worlds, and that’s to say nothing of the band’s red, white, and black color scheme and husband-and-wife/brother-and-sister mythos. Combined with his later work with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and as a solo act, the sum of it all positions White as one of the most important rockers of the 21st century, if not the most important. (We still haven’t brought up his production work for Loretta Lynn, Wanda Jackson, and others or the fact that Third Man Records continues to evolve the possibilities of physically packaged music.)
Dodge and Burn is White’s 13th album between that core four. He made six with Meg White, but whereas she’s been awfully quiet in the years since the Stripes disbanded, Jack has continued to approach his craft(s) with enthusiasm and persistence, with little-to-no falloff in quality. Below, four CoS writers make their case for their favorite Jack White recording endeavor. What’s your pick?
The White Stripes
The White Stripes were the first band most of us came to know Jack White through, and come on, who’s going to argue that any of the others is his best? The blues rock duo touted innumerable era-defining riffs while still remaining faithful to the blues that inspired a young John Anthony Gillis while growing up in Detroit. With modest instruments, modest recording equipment, and uncomplicated arrangements (and, in Meg’s case, an initially limited skillset), the Stripes were pure. And powerful.
Take them as a singles band, completely removed from the unifying motifs of their 14-year existence. The pummeling, blissfully fuzzed-out White Blood Cells single “Fell in Love with a Girl” funneled decades of Detroit rock into two catchy minutes of mayhem. The band’s next album, Elephant, had “Seven Nation Army” and its world-conquering main riff. Then came the comparably thunderous “Blue Orchid” and “Icky Thump” from Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump, respectively. On the acoustic end, songs like “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends” fit firmly into the Stripes’ aesthetic, the simplistic, sincere lyrics an extension of the back-to-basics approach Jack and Meg brought to virtually everything they did.
Beyond the individual songs is the spirit and totality of what the Stripes did, from the spousal beginnings to the red, white, and black color scheme to the blues inspirations (they covered Robert Johnson, Son House, and Blind Willie McTell) to the general hope that these components would yield staggering results. Eventually, they did. For example, that “Seven Nation Army” riff became the most recognizable guitar figure of the 21st century.
I love the pure rock and roll of The Raconteurs’ full-band configuration. I dig Alison Mosshart fronting the doomy blues rock of The Dead Weather. I’m into White’s solo work on both Blunderbuss and Lazaretto. But to argue that The White Stripes are White’s finest endeavor, as I believe, is not so much a matter of the other projects’ quality or lack thereof, but rather the quantity and lasting impact of the Stripes’ catalog. They might be the closest thing a generation had to the Stones or Led Zeppelin, the last three of their albums each winning the Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album. The Stripes’ 2011 dissolution marked the end of not just an era for Jack White but for rock in general. Sure, early peers The Strokes have stuck around, and newer bands like Titus Andronicus and Japandroids rock massively and faithfully. But no band in the years since, not even The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather, has matched the Stripes’ formidable catalog and memorable, distinct aesthetic. –Michael Madden
For Jack White, The Raconteurs were a simple answer to a deeper question: What more can I do? The White Stripes had just released Get Behind Me Satan, their third album in four years. The band’s popularity was at its apex, and with lead vocal, guitar, and songwriting duties all on his shoulders, White decided to see what would happen if he poured his talent into the mold of a real, four-man rock band. Brendan Benson offered the chance to harmonize, swap vocals mid-song, and create songs with both rhythm and lead guitar lines that didn’t rely on White’s musical ingenuity. Jack Lawrence was the bass absent from most of The White Stripes’ discography, while his Greenhornes bandmate Patrick Keeler offered a percussive edge missing from Meg White’s drum work.
“Steady, As She Goes”, the lead single from The Raconteurs’ debut, Broken Boy Soldiers, perfectly encapsulates the soaring heights White was eager to achieve with The White Stripes but couldn’t fully realize in a duo. This isn’t to dismiss the numerous incredible songs that pepper The White Stripes’ catalog, but rather to cede the obvious: The White Stripes’ albums are essentially solo albums, making Broken Boy Soliders White’s first true record as a member of a band. “Steady, As She Goes” starts with each instrument building off the last, a celebratory expression of the many new toys now at White’s disposal. Drums beget bass begets guitar begets vocals until — as the song reaches its midway crescendo — we are treated to our first true glimpse of what a White-led rock band can sound like.
The rest of Broken Boy Soliders and follow-up Consolers of the Lonely explores the same varieties of pacing, sincerity, and energy that made The White Stripes’ work so memorable, but with the added input and talent of Benson, Lawrence, and Keeler. While The Dead Weather are also a formidable rock band, White’s primary role as drummer makes them less a White-led band and more a band he happens to be in. White’s solo work certainly features other instruments and singers, but every song on Blunderbuss and Lazaretto could easily be mistaken for a stripped-down Raconteurs track. The truth is that of all the many projects White has undertaken, The Raconteurs is the only one that places him in his most ideal setting: as the frontman of a rock group that oozes talent and provides the sturdiest base upon which he can build his skyscrapers of sound. –Zack Ruskin