Listening to the White Stripes fourth album, Elephant, I've realized that what I really love most about the White Stripes is Jack White's guitar. And that what I really like least about the White Stripes is Meg White's drums.
It's rare to find someone who understands how deep blues and nasty slide guitar fit really well into rock, and who can really get underneath and inside that dialogue. Jack can play the blues because he knows how to get dirty, he knows when to break, and when to wail. Jack can play rock because he can chug through a melody like a train, he can throw together a catchy, tight little ditty, yet give it enough soul that it won't be mistaken as pop.
Meg, as far as I can tell, doesn't know how to do shit but look cute and stay the fuck out of Jack's way. I understand Meg's place at a live show -- she gives the boys something to look at and provides Jack with something passive and small to bounce his aggression off of. But on this album, she's pretty damn useless. In fact, she gets in the way more often than not. I'm really into drums and I can't fucking handle her timid little thunks and thuds anymore. The tentative, mousy way she hits the symbols, like they might hit her back.
I like that the White Stripes' concept is to keep it simple. To me, the Stripes are mostly Jack with Meg as a prop, which is alright -- to an extent. It's like being a one-man band, but cooler. But after four albums, I'm running out of patience for the gimmick. It seems so forced now. After all this time, you expect me to believe that Meg never figured out how to play the drums any better? Or at all? I don't have any idea what Jack would sound like with a "proper" drummer, maybe it would ruin the whole chemistry, but I doubt it.
I do like this album. There are some amazing parts where Jack lets loose and plays the fuck out of his guitar, on "Ball and Biscuit", for example. He's skilled, he has great taste, he can play rhythm and lead at the same time, and he has the #1 requirement for great rock n' roll guitar -- it's fucking sexy. It doesn't hurt that he's a looker himself, but that boy can play some hot guitar. And then just as it's getting revved up, in the middle of all of this energy and heat, there's a long break that sounds like "Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk. Thunk." Way to bring the house down Meg. You're supposed to increase the energy, escalate the tension, not suck every last bit of momentum and life out of the thing. It's a joke.
I know the Stripes might not be as successful and well known if they didn't have all their cute little gimmicks with the "are they or are they not brother/sister, ex-husband/wife" and the red and white and the fact that Meg doesn't talk and all that, but I'm not here for that. If I was in marketing, I'd be all over that shit. But I'm here for the music, and on this album, Jack is dragging Meg's ass all over the place and it's really wearing on my patience.
The more I listen to it, though, the more Elephant grows on me. It's that kind of album. I just can't shake this feeling that Jack White has all this great talent... the kid is seriously dripping with talent. I love the way he plays, the way he sings, and he can write lyrics. Yet he tends to fuck it up by surrounding himself with all this crap that gets in the way. With the circus of media hype and that awful song with Holly-Go-Lightly and the way Meg plays and sings. It just obscures the good stuff.
You have to sit through all this self-indulgent bullshit before you can get to the meat of it, the really true moments when Jack's wailing and banging away at the guitar, playing like the hellhound is hot on his trail. It's for those songs I keep coming back. Those are the times I feel like he's really being honest and I want to listen to what he has to say, cause I know it'll be good. For all his talk about keeping it simple, it'd be nice if Jack really would keep it simple and lose the childish drums and the condescension. It distracts from and dilutes what is otherwise great music.