Sunday, July 03, 2005

The devil's in the details.

Let’s get one thing clear right away: the new White Stripes album, Get Behind me Satan, is great. So much for my review.

I just listened to the NPR interview with Jack and Meg, which is kinda cool. I mean, Meg sits there quietly for pretty much the entire thing, and Jack talks about how he worked as an upholsterer in Detroit and played mandolin on the Cold Mountain sountrack. Another interesting point is that he married Karen Elson, a red-headed supermodel who certainly seems a good companion for a rock star.

I don't know what else I can say about the album. I read the New Yorker's review; it was interesting, although I have to disagree strongly with one of the major points. The reviewer, Sasha Frere-Jones, takes issue with some strange things -- the record's sound, the lack of Christina Aguilera singing a bumpin' chorus on Blue Orchid -- her main point of contention is that Meg is a "lousy drummer and only a passable singer," and that she's holding Jack back.

First of all, she's got it the other way aroung -- Meg is a lousy singer and only a passable drummer. But more to the point, she's the right drummer for the band. Frere-Jones imagines Jack and Cindy Blackman (sometimes of Lenny Kravitz) playing on a perfectly-recorded Zeppelin-esque record. Although I don't disagree that Blackman is a better drummer, and that a project like that could be totally terrific, the rough edges are one of the most important ingredients of the White Stripes. Even with Meg as drummer, Jack could have made polished-sounding drum tracks, but he didn't -- and the albums are the more vital and soulful for it. In the NPR interview, Jack talks about his distaste for modern studios, arguing with engineers about computer automation and such. It's hard to disagree with him. I'm not saying there isn't an art to perfectly massaged confections like Lindsay Lohan's eighties retro power-pop tunes, or Britney, or Rob Thomas' stuff; it's just that for some things, you want some grit. You want to hear some fuckups, some off notes or beats -- you want to hear the artist working. That's what you get with Jack and Meg in a room with some ribbon mics.

That and some just great songs. I just can't get enough of My Doorbell, and Take, Take, Take actually makes me mad because the fact that the narrator is so despicable makes me resist the urge to sing along. The two country-style tunes, Little Ghost and I'm Lonely (But I ain't that Lonely Yet) are both brain-stickers too.

There's something else new about this album -- the lyrics are not printed in the liner notes. The reason, in typical Jack White fashion, is that they're better than on the previous records, and he wants us to listen to them. He's worked up some lyrical themes that run throughout the record -- the orchid, the nurse, Rita Hayworth, the birds and the bees, just doin' it -- and maybe, just maybe, Jack actually knows what he's talkin' about. Also, as he mentions in the interview, the songs really all have their own character. These days it seems that albums are getting more homogeneous internally: the fill is supposed to sound like the hit, so you don't offend people who like the single. Good business sense, I suppose, but it makes for boring albums. No one makes a more diverse or entertaining album than Jack & Meg do.

So I dunno, rush out and buy it, or do whatever you do to get your music. If you don't like it the first time, play it again -- it gets better, like a fine wine.

Like my cheeseball ending? Anyway next post, I'm going to put up some pictures of the food we made for our fifties party.
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