I saw The White Stripes at Glastonbury for the first time when they were touring this album, on a windy Saturday afternoon in 2002. The next – and last – time I would see them in 2005, they were headlining the Pyramid Stage on the Friday night. Although they were much more of a household name when I saw them in 2005, the hype around them was huge in 2002.
I had been given a copy of De Stijl by my friend Paul Hughes when it came out, so I was already a fan of the band, but I think this record was the start of the music press really paying attention to them. White Blood Cells isn’t a great album, in fact it’s very weak compared to De Stijl and Elephant on either side of it, but I guess it gave them something to tour behind and feed the hype to position themselves at the top of the alternative rock tree.
I remember being so excited about seeing them in 2002 – how was a two-man band going to fill the immense size of the Pyramid Stage? How the hell was the band going to sound with only a guitar and a set of drums? It’s less of a novelty these days, especially with The Black Keys crossing further across into the mainstream and essentially doing the same trick but to a wider audience. The absence of a bass guitar doesn’t really get noticed, probably because Jack White’s guitar is so loud.
In recent years, the band’s reputation has soured – possibly because Jack White seems to be spreading himself so thinly. He’s no longer the enigma he was initially so careful to foster.
This album, the debut by The White Stripes, is very garage-rock. More so than their slightly more polished and better recorded later albums. The overall sound isn’t that different though – swampy blues rock spelled out with just guitar and drums, underneath Jack’s squealing vocals.
Meg’s drumming seems a bit better on this album, avoiding the mistakes and bad timing that she employs on De Stijl – suggesting they either rehearsed this material a bit more, or that Meg was simply a bit more comfortable with her parts.
De Stijl was their first album I heard, so I’ve always listened to this in retrospect. It lacks the direction that De Stijl has, and like most debut albums it suffers from that feeling of ‘let’s just get everything recorded and worry about everything else later’.
I was much more impressed with this album, after White Blood Cells didn’t really live up to the hype that was surrounding the band at the time of that release. I thought White Blood Cells was a bit of a letdown, after the genius of De Stijl, but here on Elephant they seemed to get back on track.
I wasn’t a White Stripes fan from the very start, but I remember a lot of talk about them around the same time that The Strokes were being touted as the next big thing. My good friend Paul gave me a copy of De Stijl on CD that he’d won at some music festival, and not knowing anything about them, he’d offloaded it onto me. So from listening to that album (a lot!), I was very into them by the time White Blood Cells came around.
I love De Stijl – a lot of it sounds (to me) like Led Zeppelin, and I like that. White Blood Cells and Elephant are a bit heavier, but still retaining a melodic edge which saves them from the garage rock of their first album.
I don’t usually pay much attention to music videos – I find they can change how you perceive a song, both positively and negatively – but the videos for three of this album’s four singles are outstanding: the kaleidoscopic Seven Nation Army video, directed by Alex And Martin; a scantily-clad Kate Moss swinging around a strippers’ pole in I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, directed by Sofia Coppola; and the pulsating The Hardest Button To Button video, directed by Michel Gondry.