I’ll never forget when The White Stripes first grabbed my attention and demanded I listen to them and their music. I was sixteen and on a high school band trip, and of course as a teenager deprived of the arguable values of cable television, Much Music in particular, I spent much of my free time in the hotel room watching bad music videos and probably eating a lot of junk food. Elephant had just been released, and as the clip for “Seven Nation Army” flashed across the TV screen I wasn’t able to turn away, or maybe even blink, for the duration of the song. I hadn’t seen anything like it. I was a naïve, sheltered, and easily impressed kid, sure, but the “Seven Nation Army” video is still, at least in my mind, one of the best visual and artistic statements any band has produced. It was a sophisticated development of their take on the early 20th century Dutch artistic movement, De Stijl, it perfectly portrayed the menace and aggression of the song, and it gave an equally powerful visual image to pair with the duo’s backward-looking and yet innovative and original guitar-centric musical style. I was hooked.
A day or two later, while still on the band trip, I picked up the CD and compulsively, obsessively tore through it countless times on the long bus ride home. I very quickly discovered their back catalogue and the distinctive, slightly off-kilter, simple, and utterly effective videos they’d been making for a while. I discovered their strange media presence, backstory, and devotion to the vintage and the analogue. I also discovered Jack White’s guitar playing. His blistering attack on songs like “Seven Nation Army” and “Fell in Love with a Girl” belied the pretty, acoustic simplicity of “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends.” His surreal, vaguely threatening, often incomprehensible, American Gothic-influenced lyrics were dark and nightmarish and addictive. I was intrigued by his fixation on old blues standards and innovative interpretations of old ideas into thoroughly contemporary songs. And I could not – cannot – deny the ridiculous power and infectiousness of his riffs and solos. Actually, I just put on “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” again for old time’s sake and it was a party. I was also lucky enough to see The White Stripes on their July 2007 stop in Winnipeg. Unfortunately, I was not one of the super lucky few who were treated to an impromptu acoustic bus singalong on the afternoon of the concert day.
Several adventurous albums, a breakup, and a whole pile of varyingly successful collaborations and supergroups later, Jack White has re-emerged as a solo artist, which is good, because he largely still sounds like The White Stripes. Why wouldn’t he? He wrote most of their songs and furthermore, he’s spoken about how he wouldn’t have considered going on to a solo career if Meg had wanted to continue with the band. He’s also incorporated more of his roots, soul, country, and Americana influences that sometimes surfaced with pals The Raconteurs. The first single from Blunderbuss, “Sixteen Saltines”, is a slice of good old-fashioned White Stripes-era rock weirdness. There’s something really satisfying about hearing Jack White sing “I eat sixteen saltine crackers then I lick my fingers.” As well, for any doubters who perhaps thought he had abandoned his more esoteric impulses in favour of mainstream accessibility, I present the video clip for “Sixteen Saltines” and its, uh…theme…of really badly behaved and destructive youth.
The moral of the story is that even though his work isn’t always evenly great, it is always interesting. The dude does not rest on his laurels. And Blunderbuss is yet another distinctive album that Jack White can add to his collection. We have two CD copies of the record to give away. To win one of them, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org within the next two weeks with Blunderbuss in the subject line. After June 26th I’ll draw two winners from the entries. Please note that this contest is open to Canadian residents only. Good luck!