The third album by this infamous proto-rocker duo from Detroit finds them on the cusp of greatness. All the elements that made the subsequent Elephant such a titanic success are firmly in place: the crunching, insistent simplicity of Meg White’s drumming, which sticks like glue to Jack White’s intense, rhythmic, blues-based riffing; a broad, knowing sense of pop history, and of course their by now well-established red/white branding imagery.
Like its successor, White Blood Cells has a sense of unstoppable momentum, variety and most importantly, plenty of grinding, visceral grooves, none more striking than the opening "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground", which epitomises the singer’s wonderful rock ‘n’ roll whinny and economic way with words. The comparatively throwaway country-flavoured sing-along of ‘’Hotel Yorba’’ was an unexpected hit - one of a brace of acoustic guitar based numbers that leaven the set - but it’s not what The White Stripes do best. That has to the stop/start, soft/loud pounding of songs like ‘’I’m Finding It Hard To Be A Gentleman’’, ‘’Expecting’’ and sonic meltdown of ‘’Aluminium’’ where the singer resorts to treated ‘ahhhhh’ vocals when words will not suffice.
The unlikely combination of such primal musical motifs with more Day-Glo pop references is one of the keys to the breadth of The White Stripes’ appeal. ‘’I Can’t Wait’’ steals (and slows down) the machine gun riff from The Breeders’ ‘’Cannonball’’, while their Anglophile tendencies are obvious on ‘’Fell In Love With A Girl’’, which marries the teenage thrills of early Beatles with elements of The Yardbirds’ ‘’For Your Love’’. And the singer who would later cover Burt Bacharach’s ‘’I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’’ reveals his soft centre on ‘’The Same Boy You’ve Always Known’’ and the cutesy nursery rhyme idyll of ‘’We’re Going To Be Friends’’.
You’re going to like White Blood Cells. It covers a lot of ground, so seems longer than its ‘classic’ 40-minute LP-style length, and with only a couple of forgettable ditties among its sixteen tracks, it’s a lean and highly engaging set. --Jon Lusk
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