Welcome to Dissected, where we disassemble a band’s catalog, a director’s filmography, or some other critical pop-culture collection in the abstract. It’s exact science by way of a few beers. This time, we follow Jack White’s career from his 1999 eponymous debut with The White Stripes to his most recent effort with The Raconteurs, 2019’s Help Us Stranger.
It’s been 20 years since The White Stripes released their debut record. While the traditional blues-covering, garage-rock duo didn’t immediately impact the rock and roll scene, it would only be a couple of years before The New York Times would proclaim, “[The White Stripes] have made rock rock again.”
Jack White’s zeal for music’s rawness, a trait passed down to him from blues legends like Blind Willie McTell as well as Detroit garage rock pioneers like The Gories, arrived at a perfect time in music history when the spirit of grunge was fizzling out and pop music was reaching a peak in artificiality. Over the past 20 years, that zeal has allowed White to explore many different musical traditions across four separate projects. But while each project remains distinct in its identity, White’s devotion to what’s real and true (a characteristic that has recently led him to banning cell phones at his concerts) has fueled a careful balance in his music of both homage and innovation.
“There aren’t that many things left that haven’t already been done, especially with music,” Jack White once said. “I’m interested in ideas that can shake us all up.” While we’ll need to wait with White a little longer for the next rock icon to inject a new “punk attitude,” for now, we’re happy to celebrate the work of one of the 21st century’s greatest rock creators and advocates, who 15 albums into his career continues to shake us all up.
15. The Raconteurs – Broken Boy Soldiers (2006)
Runtime: 33:42 (10 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off” (Best Song): While much of Broken Boy Soldiers is unexceptional, The Raconteurs’ debut single, “Steady, As She Goes”, remains a staple of aughts rock. The intro slowly builds with thick snare hits, a thumping bass line, and a quivering, self-conscious lead guitar line before the crunchy, syncopated rhythm guitar rolls in. White and co. ironically advise an ambiguous “you” (maybe the listener, maybe White himself, maybe America) not to dream or think, but to instead go along with the trends and expectations of suburbia. It’s an excellent opener for an album that never recaptures the same energy.
“Bored Rotten” (Worst Song): Penultimate track “Call It a Day” is boring to the point of annoyance. Brendan Benson takes the lead, delivering disinterested vocals across four dull verses that never take a second to breathe between them. When the fourth verse comes to a close, Benson circles back around and performs the first three verses again for some reason. This time, the second verse is mostly instrumental except for random outbursts of “my hand” and “you concocted this plan,” which makes no sense without the rest of the lyrics. By the time the song ends, we’re all hoping to call it a day.
“The Eyes Were Peeping” (Best Video): Floria Sigismondi, who previously directed The White Stripes’ “Blue Orchid” video, takes the helm again for “Broken Boy Soldier”. The surreal stop-motion adventure follows the titular doll through wooded forests and over sandy dunes as he puts his body back together. But just as soon as the boy soldier is made whole, a birthday boy again tears him to pieces, leaving the viewer with a sense of fatalistic vanity. In this video, as in other songs like “Over and Over and Over”, White expresses a belief that history is doomed to repeat itself. While things are always shifting, humanity never gets older.
“It Bears Repeating” (Best Lyric): “Your friends have shown a kink in the single life/ You’ve had too much to think, now you need a wife” — “Steady, As She Goes”
“Shut Up and Learn” (General Analysis): Broken Boy Soldiers represented Jack White’s first foray outside the garage punk/blues rock of The White Stripes and, as such, was welcomed by fans and critics as a show of versatility. As time has passed and we’ve seen the innovation and artistry White is capable of on later solo and side projects, The Raconteurs’ debut feels flat and uninspired. The album takes clearer inspiration from the late-’60s rock of The Beatles and The Doors than White’s rawer blues heroes. However, where The White Stripes’ music took care to emanate the grit and feeling of its influences, Broken Boy Soldiers is tired and mundane, much like the suburban life it decries on “Steady, As She Goes”.
14. The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan (2005)
Runtime: 44:07 (13 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: When your previous album is a culmination of everything you’ve been working towards as a garage rock band, it’s time to break out the marimba. “Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)” has a classic White Stripes melancholy courtesy of contriteness from White (“I blew it, and if I knew what to do, then I’d do it”). The instrumentation shakeup sounds completely natural under White’s guidance, and if the song sounds low-key and low-stakes at first, you should be singing, “Let’s get on a plane and just do it” with total fervor by the time it’s over.
“Bored Rotten”: It feels cruel to pick on a song like “Little Ghost”, a short, country-fried number that shows the Stripes weren’t just making Elephant part deux. But even in its two-minute runtime, it’s the kind of song you get sick of before it’s even halfway done. White and bandmate Meg White sound more concerned with making something that sounds country than with something that has any kind of defining White Stripes characteristics. What they end with sounds like a tepid sketchbook idea that would’ve been better as a B-side or just not released at all.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: There are lots of things to mourn about the end of The White Stripes, but the loss of new, Michel Gondry-directed videos is one of the greatest. “The Denial Twist” is delightful in its unpredictability, starting with a visit to the set of Stripes friend Conan O’Brien, looking a bit … off, and leading into some very skewered perspectives and neat tricks, including a great Monty Python tribute. This was the final video Gondry made with the Stripes, and it capped one of the best band/music video auteur team-ups ever.
“It Bears Repeating”: “A lot of people get confused, and they bruise real easy when it comes to love/ They start putting on their shoes and walking out and singing, ‘Boy, I think I had enough.’” — “The Denial Twist”
“Shut Up and Learn”: There are no White Stripes albums entirely without merit, and there are certainly no uninspired ones, but Get Behind Me Satan is one that needs some ironing out. A more acoustic, piano-based follow-up to Elephant could’ve been a worthy successor to that magnum opus, but Satan often feels patchy, with raging opener “Blue Orchid” leading into marimba-led “The Nurse” without much grace or sense. It’s great that the Stripes didn’t feel content to coast, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t come up with something more consistent than this.
13. The Dead Weather – Dodge and Burn (2015)
Runtime: 42:44 (12 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: Comprised of Jack White, Alison Mosshart (The Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), and Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes), the supergroup known as The Dead Weather is a collection of kindred spirits. “Three Dollar Hat” offers an early glimpse into exactly what is going on with this record and group: it’s a cocktail of hard-rocking riffs, sporadic and eclectic rhythms, muddy blues, and shrieking punk. This track exhibits Mosshart’s shaky yelps, accompanied by a compressing riff and interrupted by White’s rambling and preaching — all together making it a slow burn that’s far more digestible than most of what’s concocted on this record.
“Bored Rotten”: Though the duet between Alison Mosshart and Jack White is so precise it’s nearly impossible to differentiate who is singing when, it’s on “Rough Detective” that you see the duo push one another to ridiculous extremes. Where the rest of the record’s theatrical elements tend to complement the tones of the songs and production, on “Rough Detective”, they seem to mostly agitate and murky up the overall flow and consistency of the record.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: Directed by Sophie Muller and Ross McDowell, the video for “Impossible Winner” finds the four band members as paranormal side-show attractions who are cooped up and detained in cages on a boxcar. Mosshart is half-buried in dirt while White has extra limbs sprouting out of him. The boxcar, however, is lorded over by two black-dressed goons and a man whose whole face is just a howling mouth. When the passengers get to making too much noise, the trio start to rattle the cages and squawking at any opportunity to break out and rebel. It’s quirky, spooky, whimsy — nothing less than what you’d expect from the quartet.
“It Bears Repeating”: “My hand is faster than the pen, but the end has been written down/ Still the ink will not dry, undermined by a hope that I’m wrong/ Open up, Open up” — “Open Up”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Dodge and Burn attempts to cover so much ground within the span of 40 minutes that it ends up being a giant and sometimes obnoxious mess. The four strive to explore classic rock, alt rock, some post-punk — all within a faulty blues structure, with a bunch of other genres/styles peppered throughout with no real consistency. Individually, each member has their strengths, but this album seems to be more about each one of them attempting to one-up the other’s untamed disposition.
12. The Dead Weather – Horehound (2009)
Runtime: 43:55 (11 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: Horehound’s best blues rock bangers could register high on the Scoville scale in terms of heat. “Treat Me Like Your Mother” has total matriarchal power from co-vocalist Alison Mosshart as she comments on what it means to be both a man and a woman. The rest of The Dead Weather’s performance, including a sticky synth motif from Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita, and White’s work behind the drum kit, along with his vocal chemistry with Mosshart, give this standout momentum until the very last second.
“Bored Rotten”: “I Cut Like a Buffalo” is flat cock rock delivered through a filter of slight vintage psych effects on White’s vocals. The quality difference between first two singles “Hang You from the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and this is pretty noticeable. For someone just getting the hang of rock songwriting, it’s perfectly acceptable. For Jack White, in 2009, it doesn’t cut it.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: The video for “Treat Me Like Your Mother” starts with an old-fashioned bomb going off, but for a while, the rest isn’t quite so on-the-nose. White and Mosshart, both clad in black, march towards each other, wielding military-grade weapons. If you know anything about introducing guns at the beginning of any sort of dramatic work, you know how this’ll turn out.
“It Bears Repeating”: Ah look me in the eye now/ You want to try to tell a lie?/ You can’t, you know why?/ I’m just like your mother.” — “Treat Me Like Your Mother”
“Shut Up and Learn”: White is synonymous with guitar, but he actually got his start drumming. Horehound isn’t a showcase for Jack White: Drum Maestro. He knows his way around a kit, but his performances here are far more about being felt than intellectualized. This pretty well sums up The Dead Weather’s debut album, which has an intriguing edge but less than unique songwriting. The darker tint helps lift what are otherwise pretty boilerplate blues rock songs, but once you get a hold of its vibe, there’s not a lot to set it apart. More tracks like haunting closer “Will There Be Enough Water” in the mix would help distinguish it more.
11. The Raconteurs – Help Us Stranger (2019)
Runtime: 41:15 (12 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: White sings on Raconteurs albums, but he doesn’t hog the spotlight. His bandmate and fellow vocalist, Brendan Benson, contributes one of his best Raconteurs songs yet with the achingly honest and uplifting “Somedays (I Don’t Feel Like Trying)”. It sounds like everything great about Big Star at once without sounding like a stale copy. The acoustic strums, layered vocals, and ending refrain of “I’m here right now/ I’m not dead yet” add up to a pick-me-up that understands if you need to stay close to the ground for the time being.
“Bored Rotten”: Boring conspiracy theory: White has been deliberately placing one definitive stinker in his last few albums so everything else looks good by comparison. The line between fun and dumb is occasionally blurred, but it’s clear as day with “Don’t Bother Me”, which sounds like Queen in a centrifuge, all so White can decry people for using smartphones and other affronts. Help Us Stranger isn’t such a brilliant album that this dud’s existence really smarts, but it didn’t deserve to be brought down to this level.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: “Help Me Stranger” at first seems like it’ll just be a solid, but unremarkable video of a band playing in a room. While it does cut back to The Raconteurs in a practice space, it also fits in a story of White embracing an abandoned baby before it disappears into green vapor. The green motif is also present in the opening, when bassist Jack Lawrence sings like a crooner on a weathered 45 rpm single while a couple dances in total embrace, as well as phone booth conversations between White and Benson, and a zonked-out parting shot. It might not be easy being green, but it sure is fun for us to watch.
“It Bears Repeating”: “Who cares how people live, if living’s all they got?” — “Thoughts and Prayers”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Depending on how you view Greta Van Fleet, this is either a great or terrible time for classic rock revival. On their first album in over a decade, The Raconteurs take cues from their musical forebears without being plagiarists. Their sound is pretty flexible, and this album just sounds like some pals approximating their heroes as best they can. But when said pals are this talented, it’s still worth a listen.
10. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards (2010)
Runtime: 35:12 (11 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: White holds a near-perfect record for delivering exhilarating openings, hooking listeners in for the entirety of the album. “Blue Blood Blues”, one of White’s few lead vocals on Sea of Cowards, is no different. Jack Lawrence’s fuzzy bass riff combined with Dean Fertita’s slicing guitar work sets the album’s snarling tone from the get-go while White wails the blues (“When you give me the task/ Leave me broke and shirtless”). As the track evolves, gospel vocals pan and tremble eerily in the background, giving the track a haunted brilliance.
“Bored Rotten”: Sea of Cowards would have done well to end on the blistering jam track “Jawbreaker”, What follows on “Old Mary” is unsettling, which to be fair, fits the record’s modus operandi. However, White’s spoken-word delivery combined with creepy baby laughs, electronic squeaks, and fiddle squeals is too jarring of a switch to feel satisfying as an album closer.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: One of the creepiest videos in White’s filmography, “Die by the Drop” fully embraces The Dead Weather’s goth aesthetic as White and Alison Mosshart exchange vows of “I’m gonna take you for worse or better/ To my little grave.” Shattered mirrors, strange masks, and dark magic blacken White’s third collaboration with Floria Sigismondi (who unsurprisingly directed Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”). The normal and paranormal collide throughout the video as the song’s occultists seek to alter and destroy what we perceive as reality. If you’re looking for a haunting music video to play at your next Halloween party, look no further.
“It Bears Repeating”: “To be afraid is a luxury/ So cool your engines for me/ I don’t want a sweetheart/ I want a machine” — “Gasoline”
“Shut Up and Learn”: The Dead Weather’s second record lands atop their trilogy on our list. While the supergroup’s gritty, swampy approach to garage rock has always been enticing, it never quite matched the impact of White’s other projects. Admittedly, The Dead Weather’s appeal tends to be more niche, and Sea of Cowards captures White’s darker, heavier leanings better than anywhere else. The ride is worth taking as the quartet’s jams sonically transport listeners to a haunted cabin in the Mississippi delta for 35 minutes of unnerving and suspenseful blues rock.
09. The White Stripes – Icky Thump (2007)
Runtime: 47:44 (13 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” treats us to a band that feels comfortable with their broken-in, rustic sound again. It’s apparent with the track’s 12-bar that burns slowly and seesaws as the song builds and builds. Jack White builds monuments through sound, which is most showcased on “300” and adds to making Icky Thump the loudest White Stripes record. The tones are aggressively tweaked, the guitars are in overdrive in the best possible way, and White’s gritty back-porch vocals are highlighted.
“Bored Rotten”: Let’s be honest: Jack White is less of a songwriter and more of musical architect. His greatest songs aren’t his greatest because they’re seemingly profound or stand for something. No, his songs are the greatest because of how enticing the constructions of them are. On this record, though, his cover of Pattie Page’s “Conquest” is one place where this album comes up slightly short. The anti-sexest jump blues tune is bizarrely reconstructed as a flamenco mariachi-styled song that’s just drowned in vibrato and melisma.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: The video for “Icky Thump”, co-directed by Jack White and the Malloy Brothers is set to be in Mexico and features Spanish subtitles acting as translation of the song’s lyrics. Shot in high resolution and contrast, the overall aesthetics of the video fit the songs and album perfectly. The video, like these White Stripes, is a return to a grainy and rigid aesthetic. Everything about the video is very White Stripes — in that it’s raw, authentic, and kinda dirty.
“It Bears Repeating”: “White Americans/ What, nothin’ better to do?/ Why don’t you kick yourself out?/ You’re an immigrant, too/ Who’s usin’ who?/ What should we do?/ Well, you can’t be a pimp/ And a prostitute, too.” – “Icky Thump”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Icky Thump remains the final White Stripes album for now. It came to fruition after the band’s hiatus in 2006 when Jack White took a break to make room for his Midwestern friends in The Raconteurs. The record, for all intents and purposes, was a return to the raw, back-to-basic guitar and drum sound that was so heavily associated with the band, which is one reason it surpassed its predecessor, Get Behind Me Satan, in the eyes of most fans. Recorded in a three-week stretch, it stands as a resurrection of the band’s sound and aesthetic — slimy garage-rock blues, a peppered-in cover, and, of course, offbeat spoken-word bits all woven together with shameless nods to Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin — and a satisfying-enough closure to The White Stripes chapter of Jack White’s career.
08. Jack White – Lazaretto (2014)
Runtime: 39:13 (11 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: Easily the most grandiose song on the record, “Would You Fight for My Love?” is the densest, fullest, and loudest track on the album, highlighting a new Jack White sound that is vastly different than any White Stripes song. The song opens with a muted, eerie hum that transcends into an anthemic ballad. There’s spine-chilling bass with a bridge that seems to be scoring a horror film, complete with ominous vocals, and makes the entire track embrace a newly found, unhinged, almost maniacal approach to White’s music.
“Bored Rotten”: On “Entitlement”, White simultaneously plays rebel and crotchety old man. He rages against conformity in one scene and essentially yells at teens to get off his lawn the next. It’s the track that highlights where the album doesn’t fit together fluidly, though, that might be the point.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: Directed by Jonas & Francois, the music for the title track’s chaotic groove is paired with an equally batty music video. The black-and-white video opens with a guitar pick shredding through shards of glass and just gets even more wild from there. There’s assault-by-baseballs, broken glass, snakes, a raging bull, and even some random guy’s chest tattoo featuring the Lazaretto album artwork. It’s mayhem, and it’s incredible.
“It Bears Repeating”: “And even God Herself has fewer plans than me/ But she never helps me out with my scams for free, though/ She grabs a stick and then she points it at me/ When I say nothing, I say everything.” — “Lazaretto”
“Shut Up and Learn”: If The White Stripes were the embrace of minimalism, Lazaretto is the record that makes every other Jack White project seem angular in comparison. The record is a collision of pedal steel, rambunctious piano, some folksy strumming, even some rock-rapping, and, of course, the tenacious bustle of Jack White’s guitar playing. Lazaretto is Jack White reverting to his ideal blues rock as a way to emotionally confess. It’s a safe place to explore and project feelings in the re-enactment of age-old story lines.
07. Jack White – Boarding House Reach (2018)
Runtime: 44:07 (13 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: For 13 years, “Over and Over and Over” eluded White as he attempted to work it into projects with The White Stripes and Raconteurs (and even his canceled collaborative project with Jay-Z). Though sitting on an idea for that long heightens the risk of anticlimax when finally released, in this case, the wait was well worth it. The opening heavy guitar riff (one of White’s best ever) drives the song forward as he identifies with the mythical Sisyphus, doomed to eternally roll a boulder up a mountain to no avail. White projects his anxiety onto the listener, weaving high-pitched screams with haunting gospel choirs and rapid percussive breakdowns, while never losing the song’s booming groove.
“Bored Rotten”: “Hypermisophoniac”, a fancy word meaning “extreme hatred of sound,” is an odd thing to name a song. In fact, it’s akin to opening a burger joint called “Repulsive Food.” The song’s unsettling combination of straightforward rock and intentionally annoying sound collage is a head scratcher. While not uninteresting, White’s experimentation on “Hypermisophoniac” ventures too far to be enjoyable, especially with the perpetually oscillating synth overpowering the song’s mix.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: Not often is a music video able to capture cinematic suspense as well as director Jodeb does in “Corporation”. The seven-minute short film plays like a murder mystery from Agatha Christie or, perhaps, the Coen Brothers with White starring as the victim. White’s call of “Who’s with me?” echoes in the background as the film portrays the suspects’ supposed alibis. Things turn sinister, however, as the detective discovers the suspects belong to a cult led by White (who isn’t dead). The disturbing film (as well as the song’s lyrics) seems to caution against the power of organized identity, whether it be religious, corporate, or political.
“It Bears Repeating”: “Everyone creating is a member of the family/ Passing down genes and ideas in harmony/ The players and the cynics might be thinking it’s odd/ But if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying god” — “Ice Station Zebra”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Boarding House Reach is Jack White at his most experimental, pushing the boundaries of rock and roll at a time he believes the genre needs “a new injection of some sort of punk attitude.” Though White hoped “new, young blood” would fuel rock’s resurgence, here, he takes matters into his own hands. White plays around with hip-hop, gospel, sound collage, spoken word, congos, synthesizers, and so much more as he spews punk cynicism about consumerism, big business, and free thought. Yet, for all its diversity, Boarding House Reach is rock and roll through and through and will age well as time passes.
06. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely (2008)
Runtime: 55:30 (14 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: You don’t need The Raconteurs to tell you that life has its ups and downs, but “Old Enough” is a particularly empowering reminder of how to deal with this roller coaster. The bittersweet acoustic strums and vocals from Brendan Benson (“You look pretty in your fancy dress/ But I detect unhappiness”) lead into a parade of adages, divine strings and guitar noodling, both electric and acoustic, as well as potent mentoring from White. It’s not exactly a subtle song, but The Raconteurs are at their best when they’re just letting the truths fly right out, hopefully landing on whoever needs to hear them the most.
“Bored Rotten”: “Top Yourself” is a decent tune. The tone and White’s terse delivery could easily fit in on De Stijl. It might have been a relative standout on the lackluster Broken Boy Soldiers, but given how much The Raconteurs raise their personal bar on their sophomore effort, it gets a bit lost in the shuffle. By no means should you skip this one during a Consolers listening session, but White and the rest of the band show elsewhere they’re definitely capable of “topping” this one.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: You know how it goes. You go into the woods with your bandmates to play a tune and all of a sudden there’s three versions of everyone. But the “Old Enough” video isn’t The Raconteurs doing their take on Us, years before that film’s release. The band plays in total cooperation with their doppelgangers, lending to the song’s upliftment by teaching an invaluable lesson about the importance of working with yourself, rather than against.
“It Bears Repeating”: “I find myself just looking well beyond my best intentions, ignoring any kinda applause I might receive at all/ All others seem to find a road that’s tough to satisfaction/ I find a ridicule that isn’t cool for me at all” – “Salute Your Solution”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Consolers of the Lonely should not be this good. It acts as a corrective for the tepidness that brought down The Raconteurs’ debut while strengthening the aspects that worked, like the wide range of inspirations and White’s chemistry with Benson. Everything just sounds tighter and better, and the band’s ability to spin a yarn on outlaw saga “The Switch and the Spur” and Southern Gothic ballad closer “Carolina Drama” show that they take their band name seriously. It’s the kind of an album that anyone who craves “some good, old-fashioned rock” should salivate over.
05. Jack White – Blunderbuss (2012)
Runtime: 41:52 (12 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: Blunderbuss’ title track is a picturesque display of White’s lyricism at its most poetic. The Americana instrumentation sways, accented by a weeping pedal guitar, as White recounts a dream of forbidden love. Though some have interpreted the track to be about Jack and Meg’s relationship, the song transcends the personal with striking, romantic imagery (“An ancient grand hotel of Persian thread and ivory”). The song is soft and tender, a soothing front porch jam instead of a rough garage anthem. But inside the calm is an emotional blast deserving of the ballad’s name.
“Bored Rotten”: “Freedom at 21” is certainly not without merit. White’s anxious vocal performance coupled with the scornful lyrics about a past lover keep the song interesting. However, in an album full of breathtaking Americana instrumentation, the track’s discount “Seven Nation Army” riff is unfitting and uninspired. It’s a wonder that out of the entire Blunderbuss tracklist, this was the song chosen for Grammy nomination. Still, “Cut off the bottoms of my feet/ Made me walk on salt” is a great opening line.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: The Dori Oskowitz-directed video for “I’m Shakin’” features a lighthearted sing-off between mirrored images of White accompanied by his two backing bands. While the black- and powder blue-clad bands face each other, the duality of the singer’s desire and anxiety is put on display. The faceoff is enjoyable, but the real show stealer is the young dancer who truly brings the 1960 rock & roll tune into the present with his effortless performance.
“It Bears Repeating”: “Such a trick pretendin’ not to be doin’ what you want to/ But seems like everybody does this every waking moment” — “Blunderbuss”
“Shut Up and Learn”: In terms of lyricism and musical arrangement, Blunderbuss is White at his finest. Themes of love lost, love desired, and love resisted ooze out of the album’s poetic lines as White deals with The White Stripes’ breakup and the emotional whirlwind of stepping out alone. White isn’t afraid to share his anxieties about necessary change both in his personal life and his music, singing, “The stones in the sky never worry/ They don’t have to hurry, they move in their own way/ But I have to choose what to do/ How to act, what to think, how to talk, what to say.” Despite this anxiety, White pushes himself wholeheartedly forward, shifting his color palette from an aggressive red to a pensive and vulnerable blue. The colors White paints with on Blunderbuss may be different, but his fundamental goal of creating something novel and timeless by remaining true to America’s musical roots is never lost.
04. The White Stripes – The White Stripes (1999)
Runtime: 43:38 (17 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: A bold and killer choice for a second track on a debut record, “Stop Breaking Down” is a rendition of Robert Johnson’s 1937 Delta blues song. The record starts with an original, as though introducing themselves, and immediately steps outside themselves with an infectious cover of a seminal track for an entire genre/style of music. It’s our first real taste of the duo’s musicianship.
“Bored Rotten”: This isn’t an inherently bad song, nor do the early White Stripes really have a song that is so awful that it should be blacklisted. However, the second half of their lesser records can tend to bleed together and become forgettable. “Little People” is when this record wanders off for a bit. The musicality is sparse and the lyrics, alluding to childlike innocence and then corruption, are repetitive and executed in only a blasé manner.
“It Bears Repeating”: “The big three killed my baby/ No money in my hand again/ The big three killed my baby/ Nobody’s comin’ home again.” — The Big Three Killed My Baby
“Shut Up and Learn”: The first White Stripes album is one made by a band that loves the blues and is trying to figure out what that means to them. In doing so, the band attempt to sound like everyone they love. The debut is dedicated to Son House (a notable American Delta blues singer), a record of whose was gifted to Jack White as a teen living in Detroit. (Jack White was also once tied to the church and had grown up as an altar boy on his way to becoming a priest, before getting a new amplifier he couldn’t take with him and deciding on public school instead.) The record begins with the heavy beating of drums on “Jimmy the Exploder”and showcases how much noise can be riled up by just two people. That noise being much more noticeable on this first album as the pair are still trying to figure out how to work with each other. The entire record, peppered with covers of Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan, is a spiritual dedication to many styles and sounds of their favorite music. There’s wailing vocals, devotional lyrics, and a preachy loud-hush-loud sound. It wouldn’t take long for them to figure out how all these pieces fit together.
03. The White Stripes – De Stijl (2000)
Runtime: 37:31 (13 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: “Hello Operator” is the second track off the record and starts with White’s powerful siren guitar sounds, which showcase the duo’s increasing confidence in their ability. It’s also a recording that accentuates how pivotal Meg’s role is in the band. De Stijl, especially “Hello Operator”, employs the juxtaposition of her deceivingly simple drumstick “solos” between Jack’s verses, which may seem trivial, but it really highlights the bombastic sound the two can achieve together.
“Bored Rotten:” Only a “bad” song on a record this good, “Jumble, Jumble” remains one of the most underwhelming tracks off the album. Returning home in just a little less than two minutes, it’s a forgettable track that doesn’t detract from the record’s larger theme and style in any major way. Thankfully, it just blends in with the rest.
“It Bears Repeating”: “I got a little bird/ I’m gonna take her home/ Put her in a cage/ And disconnect the phone.” — “Little Bird”
“Shut Up and Learn”: The record’s namesake stems from an art movement that began in Amsterdam in the early 20th century. The aesthetic combines cubism with neoplatonic mathematical theory to create a very minimalist artwork and architecture. It’s prevalent in everything Jack White does, particularly within The White Stripes: the clothing, instruments, cover art, etc. However, the aesthetic soon bled right into the structure of the music they made, starting with this album. De Stijl takes this art-thought to heart, creating 13 tracks that come together to make a killer pop-rock album; however, as simple as this music sounds, there’s a complexity derived from how much thought went into its production and how transgressive the record can actually be.
02. The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
Runtime: 40:25 (16 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: It’s 2001. You can’t get through even one issue of Rolling Stone, Spin, or whatever other music publication without hearing about some garage rock duo from Detroit. So, you go head out to your favorite CD retailer and purchase a copy of their new album, White Blood Cells, for $15.99. You put it in your Discman, and the searing distortion of opener “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” has you hooked, and by the time White’s ragged vocals have entered the fray, there’s no getting out. Every blast of guitar and cymbal smash has you nodding along to a modern rock song like never before. The White Stripes aren’t just hype. They’re the real deal, and they’re going to change your life.
“Bored Rotten”: “Little Room” is cute and surprisingly memorable considering how it’s just 50 seconds of Meg bashing out a consistent beat while Jack howls about rooms of various size before doing some scatting. It’s a fine buffer on an album stuffed with brilliance, but it feels more like a fun lark than anything.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: “Fell in Love with a Girl” is so inextricably linked to its Michel Gondry-directed music video that it’s practically impossible to listen to the song without imagining Lego-fied White Stripes. What’s most impressive about Gondry’s video isn’t the concept or even all the painstaking work that went into animating Legos by hand; it’s how much filmmaking skill is shown through each euphoric transition and movement of figures across the screen as they cycle, dash upstairs, and swim. This ode to infatuation was fitted with a video that you’ll fall in love with over and over again.
“It Bears Repeating”: “Well, any man with a microphone/ Can tell you what he loves the most/ And you know why you love at all/ If you’re thinking of the holy ghost” — “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”
“Shut Up and Learn”: White Blood Cells was the Stripes’ third album, and like OK Computer or Born to Run, it signals an absolute arrival of an artist/band, even if fans can debate about whether or not it’s their best. Even years removed from the garage rock revival of the early 2000s, it still stands apart. White and his “sister” put so much heart and attitude into this album, without coming across as cloying or glib. You can sing along to “Hotel Yorba”, rage along to “Fell in Love with a Girl”, and smile from ear-to-ear with “We’re Going to Be Friends”. Never on White Blood Cells do Jack and Meg ever seem confined by the restrictions of their setup or concerned about having to stick to one particular mood or sound.
01. The White Stripes – Elephant (2003)
Runtime: 49:56 (14 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: What song but “Seven Nation Army” has the unbridled energy and fighting spirit able to unite indieheads, sports fans, dad rockers, and Egyptian government protesters? The Elephant opener finds White dealing with an antagonistic society spreading gossip at his expense. At first, White responds with fury and a singular drive to push through the noise with perhaps the most recognizable and aggressive guitar riff of the 21st century. By the song’s end, White is so fed up with the drama of “this opera” that he resolves to return to a simpler organic life away from the glaring spotlight. “Seven Nation Army” and its iconic hook have transcended White’s personal history, however, becoming a rallying cry for anyone seeking the courage to defiantly stare down their enemy and shout, “Go back home!”
“Bored Rotten”: Nestled between the Stones-esque stomp “The Hardest Button to Button” and loud and loose jams on “Hypnotize” lies “Little Acorns”, a sludgy jam that begins with a minute-long news bulletin. Broadcaster Mort Crim’s story about Janet and her search for courage and squirrels is immediately jarring, lifting the listener out of the baptism of distortion Elephant provides. Even when the songs kicks in, Jack’s adjuration to “Give it a whirl, be like the squirrel” feels out of place.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: Once again, the Stripes teamed up with Michel Gondry to create a striking video for the album’s third single, “The Hardest Button to Button”. Gondry used 32 drum kits, 32 amplifiers, and 16 mic stands to create a stop-motion effect where the band duplicated with every kick drum like an old frozen Windows system multiplying all over the screen. Jack and Meg travel through streets, weave through subway trains, and oscillate like ceiling fans as the video becomes more surreal. The video may not necessarily add to the song’s narrative or themes, but the visuals are unforgettable.
“It Bears Repeating”: “I’m gonna fight ’em off/ A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.” — “Seven Nation Army”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Rejection is a primary catalyst that has pushed rock and roll’s persevering spirit forward from Chuck Berry to the present. In 2003, it energized The White Stripes’ Elephant with a ferocity and gut-punching power that has hardly been matched in rock since. Throughout the record, White vents about colloquial elephants in the room, frustrations that have gone unspoken and unheard by those who wronged him. “I had opinions that didn’t matter,” White sings on “The Hardest Button to Button”, an understandable feeling growing up as the youngest and “seventh son” in a family of 13. But the rejections White felt in the past serve to fuel his resolve on Elephant, as he tells a lover on “Ball and Biscuit”: “Right now you could care less about me/ But soon enough, you will care by the time I’m done.” Later on in the track, White gets on his soapbox to “say one or two things about it.” But didacticism and verbal berating aren’t White’s way. Instead, he fills the entirety of Elephant with scathing guitar solos and intimidating riffs, allowing the music to do the shouting for him. To answer White’s question, yes, we get the point now.