There was a certain surreal quality to the Summer of 2001, when The White Stripes leapt from cult status to being proclaimed “the future of rock’n’roll” by The Sun and Daily Mirror.
Although there was a kind of twisted delight of the thought of hoards of readers of Britain’s Brightest Tabloid rushing out to be confronted by three albums of dark, squealing blues music, the attendant hype also had its worrying side. Maybe the new critical adulation would blunt Jack and Meg White’s edge, robbing any new material of the raw edge which is so important to their music. Possibly the band would find White Blood Cells an impossible album to follow, meaning inevitable disappointment when Elephant is unleashed.
Wrong on both counts as it turns out. Elephant, while still being the Stripes’ most commercial release to date, is as raw as they come, and is also the best album of their career. The much vaunted idea of recording all the songs on vintage equipment works perfectly – none of the equipment used dated past 1963, and the effect is akin to that of being transported back in time. The thudding bass introduction to opener Seven Nation Army almost sounds like a statement of intent -“I’m gonna fight ’em off/a seven nation army couldn’t hold me back” and gets the album off to a perfect start.
Although tracks such as this and especially the piano led I Want To Be The Boy show the Stripes’ more commercial side, there is still some pretty intense stuff here. There’s No Home For You Here is a multi-tracked cousin of White Blood Cells’ Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground, as several versions of Jack’s voice collide over a screaming guitar solo. The effect is nothing short of incendiary. Even that however, pales in comparison to the extraordinary cover version of I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself. Jack’s vocal brings out the pain and despair of the lyric, so much so that Dusty Springfield will never seem the same again.
There are quieter moments as well, such as Meg’s showcase In The Dark Dark Night, and the rather twisted You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket, but mainly this is an album to play loud. Nowhere is this more perfectly demonstrated than on Ball And Biscuit – the guitar playing is so astonishing here it’s like Jimi Hendrix jamming from beyond the grave with Led Zeppelin. It’s doubtful you’ll hear a more exciting eight minutes of music this year.
After this, the last few tracks come as something of an anti-climax, but things are rescued by the charming final track, It’s True That We Love One Another, a child like duet with Thee Headcoats‘ Holly Golightly. Sounding like it could have been recorded round a campfire, it’s the perfect ending to the record, concluding as it does with applause and shouts of “jolly good..cup of tea..let’s celebrate”.
Hopefully this will be the record that makes people forgot about the hype around Jack and Meg and concentrate on the music. Music that has never sounded better than it does here. It’s been a while, but Elephant has certainly been worth the wait.