posted 2011-02-23 13:00:19

Album that changed my life: The White Stripes: Elephant

White Stripes - The Elephant. (Photo: Courtsey of V2 Records)
White Stripes - The Elephant. (Photo: Courtsey of V2 Records)

Album that changed my life: The White Stripes: Elephant

I’ve got a backyard with nothing in it, except a stick, a dog, and a box with something in it

Daniel Taveras

Staff Writer

I have no qualms with saying that Feb. 2, 2011 offered the most significant musical dissolution of the 21st century. After 14 years of touring and recording, The White Stripes officially called it quits. I’ve seen my fair share of bands come and go, but this particular disintegration feels momentous — momentous in that it places a marker on this era and stakes the bold claim that the Oughts were The White Stripes’ decade.

The year 2003 marked the release of their 49-minute masterwork, Elephant, and its first exposure to both the world and my eardrums. I’d been pining for a White Stripes album ever since witnessing the Michel Gondry LEGO animated video for “Fell In Love With A Girl”. It was the shortest, most energetic and brilliant song I’d ever heard. When Elephant was released and “Seven Nation Army” hit the airwaves, there was no way I could not love The White Stripes. The issue was I was a lowly high school student with no job, allowance, Internet, or generous parent, and as much as it pained me, I had to wait. It wasn’t until nearly two years later, when I finally had a job, that I bought my very first CD: The White Stripes’ Elephant.

Perhaps it’s too close to us, but parsing out the latest decade feels difficult. The late-nineties bled into the early 2000s, and as the pop landscape was weaning off boy bands and Euro dance, rock music was seeing a back-to-basics approach: amps, guitars and loud, catchy riffs. The garage-rock revival merged the simplicity and attitude of punk with the boom of Zeppelin and Sabbath. The White Stripes were the signpost band of the movement, and Elephant indoctrinated the unworthy. In what feels like a perfect continuation and evolution from White Blood Cells, their previous album, Elephant functions as a sequel of sorts.

The album leads in with the most popular song the Stripes would ever produce, “Seven Nation Army.” The riff, discovered during a sound check before a gig in Australia, is the most well-known and inspired one since Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Its reach is global, as its phrasing constitutes the most popular soccer chant in Europe. The bellowing of Jack White’s Kay Hollowbody through a DigiTech Whammy produces the guttural, marching riff. “Black Math” is a dazzling follow-up track. White’s guitar rips through the chords, and during the breakdown his voice sounds ragged and bothered. His Billy Corgan-esque barking transitions to a vicious and memorable guitar solo. Because the perceptions of genre often stay too static, it would be easy to dismiss this track as anything but punk, but it surely is. If it’s a label that works for The Libertines, it can work for the Stripes.

“I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart” generates smiles. The delicate piano is overlaid with a rich and beautifully creamy slide guitar solo. The album’s champion is “Ball and Biscuit”, a seven-minute sonic boom blues assault. Towing the same lines as Jimmy Page, Jack White revisits the likes of Son House and Blind Willie McTell to crank out an agitated, electrified revival of the blues. If that wasn’t enough, the following track and album’s third single, “The Hardest Button to Button,” clobbers the listener with its stilted, stop-and-go beat.

White appears fearless, and his songs lack any sense of doubt. It could be due to the extraordinary fact that the entire album was recorded in a mere two weeks. With no preening over minute details, the songs feel like the raw extract from Jack’s fruitful mind. Instead of obsessing over tones and melody, he simply let it come to him and let the songs write themselves.

Elephant is one of the great albums of the 21st century, and The White Stripes’ career took them to heights few rock bands dare achieve. The White Stripes’ final performance was on the last episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and as White tearfully blundered through the lyrics of “We’re Going to Be Friends,” it almost seemed as if he knew it was the end. Even though the finality of the situation proved prophetic, it remains a beautiful swan song for a wonderful band: the band that created the first album I ever bought — an album that changed my life.