Tag Archives: The White Stripes

Rocks In The Attic #610: Muse – ‘Origin Of Symmetry’ (2001)

RITA#610.jpgThis is it. This is the one. Out of all of the albums I got behind during my twenties, this is the one that resonated with me the most. It still strikes a nerve today, sixteen years later.

I seem to remember the very late ‘90s being a desolate wasteland in terms of guitar rock. The homemade ethic of Grunge had drifted into stadium-filling Alternative Rock, but the punk vibe was still very much there. It was almost a crime to be proficient at playing the guitar. That’s just not cool, man.

The turn of the century gave us the Strokes and the White Stripes, both bands making guitars cool again. But for all their posturing, both of these American imports still took a simplistic approach to guitar playing; Jack White from garage rock, blues and folk, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. from the New York City New Wave of Television, Talking Heads and Blondie.

Something far more interesting was happening in England. I had heard tales of a Devon band featuring a hot-shot guitarist with dazzling effects pedals. By the time I finally heard their first record, Showbiz, in 1999, I was an instant fan but I wasn’t bowled over. Sunburn was an awesome song, but there was a fair bit of mediocre filler throughout the record.

Fast foward a year or so, and a friend passed me an advance promo single for Plug In Baby. I played it that night during my DJ set at 38 Bar, and instantly fell in love. I hadn’t heard such an off-kilter guitar riff since Randy Rhoads’ Crazy Train. This Bellamy kid definitely wasn’t hiding behind those pedals.

The next day, I drove (for no particular reason) over to Hadfield, the Royston Vasey of The League Of Gentleman. I played the song over and over in the car, and just couldn’t get over how good it was. It felt like it had been written for my tastes in mind.

Thankfully the rest of the album was much stronger than its predecessor. New Breed and Bliss were both riff-heavy, and there was even a heavy cover of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good introduced with a lovely bit of Wurlitzer piano. The record does get a little tired towards the end – a good 15 minutes could have been shaved off to make a truly awesome 35 minute record – but it was still a damn sight stronger than Showbiz.

I saw the band tour this record at 2001’s V Festival in Staffordshire. They headlined the second stage, and I managed to get up close to the front. After the set, I turned round to walk back to my tent and realised how many thousands of people had also been watching. This little band I had followed for a couple of years had grown beyond my expectations. I wouldn’t seem them again until 2010, touring album number five.

Hit: Plug In Baby

Hidden Gem: Hyper Music

Rocks In The Attic #576: Howard Shore – ‘The Fly (O.S.T.)’ (1986)

RITA#576I’ve got to admit, I love a good soundtrack, and I love a good coloured vinyl release. So when I saw that Howard Shore’s score to David Cronenberg’s 1986 reimagining of The Fly was being released, I jumped at the chance.

These boutique vinyl releases seem to be getting more and more popular, and it’s with soundtracks that labels tend to be focusing on. That’s good news for me, but very bad news for my bank balance.

This particular release has a less than impressive 3D lenticular cover, but the best thing is that the vinyl itself is a lovely green / black “haze”. They really could have done something a little better with the lenticular cover. The eventual vinyl release of the White Stripes’ Get Behind Me Satan for 2015’s Record Store Day showed how well a lenticular cover can work. Here, the artwork flips between a smoky shot of the infamous teleporter, and a similarly smoky shot of the same teleporter with a human arm and a giant fly’s leg reaching out. The two images are not different enough – or clear enough – to give a sense of a moving image.

Still, it’s a lovely package and the record looks and sounds awesome – Brundlefly would approve!

Hit: Main Title

Hidden Gem: Plasma Pool
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Rocks In The Attic #538: Jack White – ‘Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016’ (2016)

rita538Does the world need a collection of Jack White’s acoustic recordings? I’m not sure. The whole concept of a compilation album seems to be everything White stands against. It’s music for product. Remember, this is the guy who – in the early days of the White Stripes – never told the press anything truthful because he wanted to remain enigmatic.

Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016 is a double-LP collection of White’s acoustic-leaning songs with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and assorted solo recordings. The real gems are the rarer songs taken from b-sides or soundtracks, and these leave you wanting more. I’d kill for an album worth of b-sides and unreleased material – a White Stripes Past Masters next please, Third Man Records.

The real gem of the album is City Lights, a previously unreleased leftover track from Get Behind Me Satan. Previous White Stripes collaborator Michel Gondry surprised White by filming a lovely little music video for the song, and only notified White’s Third Man records when it was completed.

At least it’s not just a straightforward ‘Best Of The White Stripes’ compilation. That really would be a little too hard to stomach. But we do get something almost as mawkish – a cover photo of him looking all moody, in monochrome of course. He looks like a handsome balladeer, and his mournful good looks probably wouldn’t look out of place next to this Christmas’ undoubtable Michael Bublé release.

The liner notes, by Greil Marcus – who else? – paints a picture of Jack White as the next in a long line of Delta blues guitarists, passing the torch down from the likes of Son House, Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James. Hmm…maybe…you think. But then you read the song credits and notice that White wrote one of the songs specifically for a Coca Cola commercial in 2006. Hmm…maybe not then.

Still, Jack White means a lot to me and always will. He was a key component in the shift back to the roots of rock music. After grunge, alternative rock became stagnant with nowhere to go, but then a couple of players – most notably the White Stripes and the Strokes – seemed to reset the dial.  They brought analogue recording back into the mainstream, and shorter, sharper running times of records; thirty minutes rather than the CD-bursting 50- or 60-minute snoozefests.

But I still can’t get over the fact that a compilation record just feels wrong for White…

Hit: Hotel Yorba

Hidden Gem: City Lights

Rocks In The Attic #499: Ennio Morricone – ‘The Hateful Eight (O.S.T.)’ (2015)

RITA#499

Int. Cinema Foyer. Night.

The scene takes place in Event Cinemas, Broadway, Newmarket, New Zealand. The date is Wednesday 20th January 2016. It’s hot, damn hot.

A host of minor New Zealand celebrities have tested everybody’s patience while we await a glimpse of Quentin Tarantino at the New Zealand premiere of The Hateful Eight.

Cast member (Six-Horse Judy) and Tarantino alumni Zoe Bell comes around first. She gladly signs an autograph on Johnny’s copy of The Hateful Eight on vinyl. Johnny hands her a red marker so that it matches the blood splatters in the snow on the cover.

RITA#499c Johnny: Thank you Zoe – could you also sign my copy of Death Proof?

Johnny presents the second record cover.

Zoe: Fuck yeah I’ll sign your Death Proof!

Working his way down the red carpet, Quentin starts scrawling his autograph on Johnny’s copy of The Hateful Eight on vinyl. Again the signature is in blood red.

Johnny: Hey Quentin – thanks so much for coming out to see us in New Zealand; we always get forgotten about…

Quentin: Hey, no problem.

Quentin looks up, and notices Johnny’s Stax Records t-shirt.

Quentin: Hey, cool t-shirt man!

RITA#499bJohnny is about to melt from a mixture of adrenaline and utter panic at having being sartorially complimented by one of his heroes.

Johnny (voice starting to quiver): …And please don’t stop directing after two more films. Please, please keep directing.

Quentin looks up, slightly taken aback. He makes eye contact again, leans back and taps Johnny on the shoulder.

Quentin: Thank you man, that’s a very nice thing to say.

Quentin moves down the line to speak to his other adoring fans. Johnny vomits and dies of excitement.

Fin.

Hit: L’ultima diligenza di Red Rock” (The Last Stage to Red Rock) [Versione Integrale]

Hidden Gem: Apple Blossom – The White Stripes

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Rocks In The Attic #296: The White Stripes – ‘Icky Thump’ (2007)

RITA#296I guess the fact that I’ve had this album in my collection for about three years, still sealed in its shrinkwrap, speaks for itself. The White Stripes at one point were probably the most cutting-edge band in America – but after Elephant I don’t think anyone really took any notice of them.

I don’t think the quality of their records suffered after Elephant – there’s definitely nothing wrong with either Get Behind Me Satan or Icky Thump – but perhaps everybody just got over the novelty of seeing a two-piece band on stage (something that the Black Keys helped with).

I remember reading an interview with Jack White in the early 2000s and he was saying how important it was to remain an enigma to their fans. ‘As soon as the music press find out everything about me, I’ve had it’ – he said, of words to those effect. Perhaps everybody just got bored of them. There used to be a load of mystery around Jack and Meg White’s relationship – are they brother and sister or husband and wife? – and as soon as it was revealed that they were a divorced couple, suddenly they didn’t seem so special anymore.

This album is the soundtrack of Jack White’s marriage to Karen Elson – the Jean Paul Gaultier supermodel who went to my secondary school (she was in the year below me). Icky Thump is surely a reference to the infamous Yorkshire martial-art Ecky Thump from The Goodies television show. I still find it hilarious that Karen Elson would have taken Jack White home to meet her parents in Oldham. Funnier still is that while he was there, somebody brought up The Goodies in conversation. White and Elson’s marriage didn’t last long unfortunately so now I can’t claim my hometown to be the home of a rock star. Well, unless you count Barclay James Harvest.

No matter how I try, I can’t separate Icky Thump from a certain video I saw online once starring a young ‘actress’ being showered with more than just compliments. Whoever has uploaded this particular compilation had used the White Stripes song to soundtrack every highlight (and unless you’re offended by anything at all, don’t dare try and track this down). Good times!

Hit: Icky Thump

Hidden Gem: 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

Rocks In The Attic #223: Jack White – ‘Blunderbuss’ (2012)

RITA#223I’d avoided this album throughout 2012. I hadn’t heard particularly good things about it, especially from one particular critic, and that really put me off even trying the album. Towards the end of the year though, I started hearing claims such as ‘Best Album Of The Year’ or ‘Best Rock Album Of The Year’ emitting from magazine, newspaper and website round-ups of the year.

I then heard that Blunderbuss was the best selling vinyl record of 2012 (in the U.S.), narrowly beating the 2012 stereo remaster of Abbey Road (which I did manage to get my hands on before the end of the year, as part of the Beatles’ stereo vinyl box set). Although, Jack White’s album came out in April, whereas those Beatles records didn’t see the light of day until November, so I’m not sure too much should be read into that. There are also two Mumford & Sons albums in that top-10 vinyl chart for 2012, so I guess that proves that charts shouldn’t be relied on for any artistic recommendation.

So I thought I’d dip my toe into the water, for old time’s sake. You have to understand here that I used to be a big White Stripes fan, but over the last five or so years, I’d really started to think that Jack White was washed up. I have all of the White Stripes records on vinyl (except Get Behind Me Satan which they didn’t release on the format) – even the Under Great White Northern Lights live album – and they’re the only contemporary band I can say that about; but I haven’t even bothered to take Icky Thump or Under Great White Northern Lights out of their shrinkwrap yet (I’ve heard Icky Thump on my iPod and I’ve seen the film of that live album).

But, Blunderbuss, is to me a huge success. It’s received many, many plays on my turntable in the couple of weeks since I bought it; and thanks to the free MP3 download that came with the record, it’s rarely been off my iPod. The last White Stripes album I can say that about was Elephant, not because it’s a great album from start to finish, but because there are a handful of songs on there that are as good as the band at their peak on De Stijl.

The album’s well produced – very, well produced – with a bunch of great songs and a diverse range of instrumentation. Thankfully, there’s not too much of the dull garage-rock sound that had blighted some parts of the White Stripes’ records from White Blood Cells onwards. Essentially the album sounds like it will stand the test of time, and I can’t say that for the last couple of White Stripes records.

I hadn’t been a fan of any of Jack White’s side-projects, so I didn’t think I would like Blunderbuss, but I think it might just be as good as De Stijl, and that’s a huge thing for me to say.

Hit: Love Interruption

Hidden Gem: I’m Shakin’

Rocks In The Attic #200: Radiohead – ‘The Bends’ (1995)

RITA#200The 200th post in this blog celebrates an album that is probably more important to the development of my musical tastes than any other album in my collection.

In the early ‘90s, when I discovered music for myself – and discovered bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC (that I couldn’t care less if other people liked or not) – I was very much into rock music. I naively thought all other genres of music were a waste of time. I either liked contemporary rock, or classic rock, with a touch of metal and grunge thrown in for good measure.

I then went to University, joined the Rock Society club and found other like-minded people. The rest of the time, I would be drinking in pubs with my classmates, usually dressed in an AC/DC or Led Zeppelin t-shirt, with my shoulder-length long hair; and my classmates would be dressed like normal people. Ugh, who wants to be normal people?

Around this time, and from the time I started listening to music, Indie and Britpop were my enemy. This is partly the fault of the hype surrounding Oasis, and partly the fault of those normal people all around me, like the red-headed chick a year above me in college who just couldn’t fathom that I wasn’t going to the big Oasis gig at Maine Road later that night. Britpop was a club that I didn’t want to join, full of bands like Pulp, who sang about twee nonsense whilst mincing around a stage littered with kitsch charity-shop junk. “Jarvis is really a fantastic social commentator,” I would be told. That’s strange, I thought, he looks like a collector of chintz, singing mediocre songs, backed by a band of average musicians.

(I guess that’s the point I still agree with today. If you listen to rock music, you tend to listen to a better pedigree of musician. The lines have blurred completely, because rock music is now so mainstream, and has been for the past decade, but when I think back to the 1990’s, the Indie or Britpop bands were full of musicians who just couldn’t really play. Noel Gallagher may have started off as a decent songwriter – although it pains me to say it – but his skills on the guitar are very basic. Listen to him solo and he plays the same pentatonic scale every single time. Compare him to somebody like Slash, and there’s just no contest. You may think it’s an unfair comparison, but players like Slash aren’t that uncommon in rock music.)

Anyway, I digress. So, there I am at University, in my second year I think, and it’s getting a little tired listening to rock music all the time. It’s not like I had run out of rock bands to listen to, but there was definitely nothing decent that was coming out by contemporary bands. Bright young rock hopes like The Wildhearts had lost their way and gone all industrial, and Terrorvision had gone completely mainstream, singing about Tequila on Top Of The Pops every week. Then one day I was in the Scream pub in Huddersfield, and somebody put Just by Radiohead on the jukebox.

My whole outlook on music changed instantly. Here was an Indie or a Britpop band, playing something that was just as musically interesting as anything that I had heard in rock music – either in contemporary rock music or in classic rock. I rushed out and bought the album straight away.

Just was clearly the best song on the album, accompanied by a great music video, but there was some other really good stuff on there too. I very quickly bought Pablo Honey (average, but with a couple of highlights) and OK Computer (overrated, but with a couple of highlights), but The Bends remained my favourite (and still does to this day).

The rest of my years at University were spent digesting everything I could by Radiohead. I even remember buying one of those cheaply produced interview discs with the band, just because my appetite for anything related to them was so strong.

Their lasting effect on my musical tastes is impossible to quantify. I made a huge left turn from my existing staid music collection, and turned almost wholeheartedly into Indie and Britpop. I started listening to some bad examples of the genre (Cast, Space, Bis, etc), but found plenty of modern classics there too (The Las, Blur, Supergrass, etc). This eye-opening led to a decision that I’m still in two minds about today. In the summer of 1999, I decided against seeing Aerosmith headline a day of rock bands at Wembley Stadium, in favour of travelling to my first of many Glastontonbury festivals.

I guess it was just bad timing, but I still partly regret not seeing Aerosmith that weekend. One of my friends went to that gig, and when he told me about the setlist they played, full of ‘70s classics they had avoided playing in the three times I had seen them up to that point, I immediately started kicking myself. But then when I think back to Glastonbury 1999, and all the bands I saw not only that year, but every year I went back up to and including 2007, it’s not really a fair comparison.

If I had seen Aerosmith at Wembley Stadium in 1999, I would have seen my favourite ever band, supported by the likes of Lenny Kravitz (who I was lucky enough to catch that same weekend at Glastonbury) and The Black Crowes (who I still haven’t managed to see live). By deciding to go to the Glastonbury festival that year, and over the next six Glastonburys I went to, I managed to see David Bowie, Radiohead, R.E.M., Manic Street Preachers, Suzanne Vega, The White Stripes, Super Furry Animals, Oasis, The Who, Paul McCartney, Muse, Doves, Coldplay, Air, The Chemical Brothers, The Bluetones, Fatboy Slim, Kings Of Leon, Moby, The Killers, Blondie, Amy Winehouse, and a whole lot more.

Radiohead almost lost me with OK Computer, but they definitely lost me after that. At one point, I remember seeing them play a live gig on TV, I think to promote Kid-A. At one point during the set, Jonny Greenwood took off his guitar and walked over to a bank of portable TVs. He crouched down and started flicking through channels as part of the performance. That’s it, I thought, they’ve turned into something else.

I liked Radiohead as a guitar band, when they used to write songs on guitars. I’d even be brave enough to say The Bends is the best album of the 1990s.

Hit: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

Hidden Gem: Bullet Proof…I Wish I Was