Even if you don’t know the White Stripes, they know you. The album art contains photos from The Cole Porter Collection of Yale’s very own Sterling Music Library. Bruce Brand, the layout designer, used additional photos of Meg and Jack White, who make up the White Stripes. Their latest collaboration, “Elephant,” is evidence of their harmonious talent.
They spent last April in London recording the album on a reel-to-reel. For all you recording buffs out there, the entire album was mastered on an eight-track with quarter-inch tape. This was a welcome relief from the current ultra-crisp digital trend, which has taken music into an unrealistic sampled sonic environment. The liner notes also contain the disclaimer, “No computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing or mastering of this record.”
All the E’s and 3’s on the back cover are in red type to point out that an E is a backwards three (or is a three a backwards E?). On the tracklist, the songs are divided into cryptic numbers. For example, the first track is labeled 148-A01 and the tenth track is labeled 148-C03. While there is no real method to the madness, it seems like the album is divided into four groups, almost like movements. The first three tracks in the “A” group are aggressive punk-influenced tracks. The next four in the “B” group are slightly subdued with a more acoustic sound, using quieter vocals and occasional keyboards. The “C” group, which contains the next three tracks, combines elements from both the “A” and “B” groups. The “D” group focuses on a grungy blues sound.
“Elephant” opens with “Seven Nation Army,” a plea from Jack White to leave the haste of England and return to the fields of Kansas. (Even though he’s really from Detroit). The album continues with “Black Math,” which sounds like Andrew W.K. if he had been born an indie-rocker.
White’s songs are like miniature sermons on religion, friendship, and art. They are reminiscent of the lyrics of Billy Childish, lead-singer of London-based Thee Headcoats. For example, in Crimes of the Future, Childish preaches, “Western art has been stupefied since taking the position of an admiring doormat.” I particularly enjoyed “There’s No Home For You Here,” “In the Cold, Cold, Night,” and “Ball and Biscuit” which were also acknowledgments of Childish. Is this the start of a brit-pop new wave?
I was very surprised to hear Holly Golightly professing her love for lead singer Jack White on the last track (It’s purely platonic, no sexual, no platonic?). There are weird rumors floating around that Meg and Jack are brother and sister, ex-husband and wife, and now they’ve brought Holly Golightly into the love affair. Holly is best known in London blues-punk circles fronting Thee Headcoatees with Billy Childish, among others.
Jack White has taken London to the states. While he has transformed his sound in “Elephant,” his voice still comes through. Unlike 90 percent of the major bands in the music industry, he has not produced rehash of previous material. He has not completely reinvented himself either. He has retained his voice and hints of such hits as “You’re Pretty Good Looking” shine through. This is a substantial feat for an artist who has put out four successful albums.