Agony Shorthand

Thursday, October 30, 2003
WHITE STRIPES : "ELEPHANT"....Unlike my grabby consumer behavior when the last one came out (I snapped it up its first week), I decided to take a skeptical wait-and-see attitude with this most recent WHITE STRIPES CD. Initial feedback from earlybirds was not promising, and then watching the thing chart so highly -- and then STAY in the US Top 10 for weeks! -- seemed to confirm that this was likely not a record I would dig much. Hey, unfair as it is, this is just an ingrained mindset. Million-selling rock records worth celebrating have been so few and far between since the 1960s, that I reckoned the Stripes had surely cleaned up that muddy & raw sound, written a few anthemic hook-filled hits and gone fully & totally pro. So if you've heard this record, you know that's not true. I'm hard-pressed to say that it's any more "commercial" than their first Sympathy for the Record Industry CD, the one that had every garage punk hipster pissing his pants. I'm still floored that they are selling like hotcakes -- it goes against every informed preconception I possess about what kids will buy on a mass scale. There are NO hits here. Sure, it's a little clean in parts, and there's some goofy vocal shennanigans that teenagers might bust a gut over, but "Elephant" is a diverse, raw, clever, engaging rock and roll record from a truly talented pair.

Like "White Blood Cells", the record sort of runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way in, but there are some true whoppers right up front, including "Black Math", a sped-up, bonzai screamer that's as pounding and wild as "The Big Three Killed My Baby" from the first record. There's such a lack of artiface from these two -- I mean, drummer Meg can't sing a lick, but that doesn't mean she doesn't get to anyway ("In The Cold, Cold Night"). Jack White is such a heart-on-the-sleeve softy and so goddamn proud of it that he's really hard to mock -- and anyway, "I Want To Be The Boy..." might even be the best song on here. Anything on this record would sound way out of place on FM rock radio as I know it, and yet. And yet! I pronounce these two heretofore innocent until proven guilty!