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Music Preview: The White Stripes burst out of a Detroit garage and into the rock 'n' roll consciousness

Friday, March 29, 2002

By Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Their faces still moist from the slobbering adulation of the British music press, the White Stripes -- of Detroit Rock City -- were more recently adopted by the critics in their homeland, where "White Blood Cells" finished fourth in Village Voice's critics' poll for 2001, inspiring such overheated praise as this comparison to Dylan's "Love and Theft" from New York critic Amy Phillips:

The White Stripes -- Jack and Meg White -- started as an underground sensation and are now climbing the Billboard charts. (C. Taylor)

" 'Love and Theft' doesn't rock, it doesn't rage, it just kind of stagnates. Bob's this old dude sitting on his porch all day waiting to die, no matter how hard he tries to hide it. When he does that line about the booty call, it's like W. doing the macarena. The White Stripes could be accused of playing 'old person music,' too, but 'White Blood Cells' sounds fresh, vital, real as in 'keeping it real.' "

The battle lines are forming, with the White Stripes, even more so than the Strokes, emerging as the great White hope assigned with making rock 'n' roll seem cool again to people under 30 -- not all people under 30, just the people cool enough to understand that Creed, in fact, is not cool.

And it's working.

MTV has played the videos to "Hotel Yorba" and "Fell in Love With a Girl." The band has left its indie cult-home of Sympathy For The Record Industry for V2 Records, home to such critical darlings as Grandaddy, Mercury Rev and Underworld.

 
 
White Stripes

WITH: Brendan Benson, Soledad Brothers.

WHERE: Rosebud, Strip.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.

WEB SITE: www.whitestripes.com

TICKETS: $13 advance; $15 at door. 412-323-1919.


A Q&A with the White Stripes singer

   
 

After rocking David Letterman a few weeks back, they hit the Billboard album chart last week at 185, then jumped to 121.

And now they hit the road, which, after all, is where they made their reputation -- as a primal, two-piece, co-ed blues explosion deconstructing classic rock until it's nearly punk while rocking out with more enthusiasm than your average deconstruction.

Not that other artists haven't spent the past few decades rocking the garage scene with the same enthusiasm and, in certain cases, better records.

But the White Stripes found a way to take it to another level -- or perhaps, the way to take it to another level found the White Stripes.

After all, the band was born and nurtured in an underground whose attitude toward "making it" -- at least officially -- has always been that only losers win, an attitude reflected in the minimal blues of "Little Room," in which guitar hero/vocalist Jack White frets about the price of fame as follows: "Well, you're in your little room/and you're working on something good/but if it's really good/you're gonna need a bigger room/and when you're in the bigger room/you might not know what to do/you might have to think of how you got started/sitting in your little room."

As fate would have it, it's because of songs like "Little Room" that White and drummer Meg White -- who, according to popular legend, was either his ex-wife or sister (she's his sister) -- find themselves performing in the bigger room.

Why?

Because, in part, the record's really good.

Because, in part, the singer has a better haircut now than on the cover of the band's self-titled '99 debut, which was at least as good as "White Blood Cells" (and if you think his haircut shouldn't matter, then you clearly haven't noticed that the White Stripes are as image-conscious as the Spice Girls ever were).

Because, in part, a revolution calls for times in need of revolution. Look, it doesn't take a rocket scientist, much less a music geek, to see that what the industry is shoving down our throats today is even more offensive than the garbage they were pushing as punk was about to explode in the '70s -- or just before Nirvana came along to save the world from choking on the fumes of Winger's hairspray in the early '90s.

So the Strokes go gold. And now the White Stripes hit the pop charts as America discovers what the British knew a year ago -- that if you look beyond the Billboard charts, you can, as Night Ranger once noted, still rock in America.

It's a British Invasion of critical thought.

The White Stripes were "The Sound of Now!" last summer on the cover of New Musical Express. And while they've yet to grace the cover of a major U.S. music magazine, they have the U.S. critics hyperventilating over rock 'n' roll to an extreme we haven't seen since, well, Nirvana.

Joe Hagan wrote last summer in The New York Times that "Like so many icons of yore, Mr. White sounds as if he has struck a deal with the Devil. For beneath the arty facade lies one of the most cagey, darkly original rockers to come along since Kurt Cobain."

In Rolling Stone, the White Stripes' second album, "De Stijl," turned up on a recent list of 50 "coolest" albums ever, while inciting the following words of praise: "Two Detroit kids form a garage-punk duo, rocking the blues like a scaled-down Led Zeppelin. Sexy, raw, weird, pretty. Jack White howls at the moon and tortures his guitar while Meg White abuses the drums. Awesome!"

Now, of course, the question is how far into the mainstream can they go and still be cool?

How many people talk about how cool Nirvana is today?

And how cool were those awful bands the major labels signed because they swore they'd found the new Nirvana? As cool as the awful bands they're bound to sign because they think they've found another White Stripes?

It's worth noting that Nirvana didn't make the list of 50 coolest albums ever.

But the Strokes did.

And the White Stripes.

Only time will tell how cool "The Sound of Now!" is gonna sound another 10 years down the road.

But in the meantime, it's a better sound of now than anything on "Now!" those K-tel-like collections documenting the extent to which the music industry has come to suck.

And if it gets the kids who would've settled for the sound of "Now" to try a little rock 'n' roll, then I say, give the Stripes a bigger room.

They've earned it.

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