Album released this week in… 2003: The White Stripes – Elephant
In case you didn’t understand, that was my rendition of ‘Seven Nation Army’, a song that took the world by storm. But this is not an argument focussing on one song. We can all agree that ‘Seven Nation Army’ is one of the most important songs of the last 15 years. But behind ‘Seven Nation Army’ (literally, it’s the opening track) there is a whole other world, painted vividly by Jack and Meg White.
The White Stripes were already gaining ground off the beaten track with their first two albums; The White Stripes and the fantastic De Stijl. But they really grabbed the attention of the mainstream with their third release, White Blood Cells. What better way to solidify that position than with Elephant? If White Blood Cells was their last proper lo-fi blues album, Elephant was their development into a wider spectrum of music.
The White Stripes broadened their palette of songs from the charming numbers found on their first three albums in an attempt to try new styles. Indeed, the entire album feels more attached to alternative rock than blues rock. Jack White’s distorted and altered guitar sound is evident on tracks such as ‘Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine’, ‘There’s No Home For You Here’ and ‘Ball and Biscuit’, the introduction of which is enough to send chills down your spine. All of these tracks and more reek of modern alt-rock sensibility and stand out on their own as great tracks.
While The White Stripes have a tendency to delve into the gimmicky, as exhibited time and time again, there’s still heart to this album. The first half really delves into the personal, lyrically, what with the songs ‘I Want To Be The Boy Who Warms Your Mother’s Heart’ and ‘You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket’. The addition of ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ (at Meg’s suggestion) is a nice touch as well. Come the second half, the band return to that jokey side; see the introduction to ‘Little Acorns’ and the very premise of ‘Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine’.
Despite a sound that echoes the Garage Rock Revival that was highly prevalent at the time, The White Stripes were firmly lodged in the past. Reportedly the band didn’t use any computers during the recording process, yet have a much cleaner sound than their previous releases. Not that The White Stripes were quite like the other acts around. True, the alternative sound was highly popular, but does Elephant sound like Up the Bracket? Or Is This It? Not even. Post-Elephant, Jack and Meg moved on to new ground; Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump both found them moving into new musical experiments.
If I had to pinpoint what makes Elephant so great and sets it aside from the other albums released in the earlier 21st century… I’d say it was the warmth. Going back to this album after a few years of neglect reminded me why I was so mad about The White Stripes during my teenage years. The music of Elephant has a way of inviting the listener into its mad world, and even if you leave, you’ll be back; it’s just that irresistable.
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