The one downside of great albums is that they can only be heard for the first time once: Imagine being able to hear Let It Bleed or 1999 again for the first time, to be taken aback by greatness once more. So listeners should savor their first encounter with The White Stripes' Elephant. Only time will determine whether the album joins the ranks of those greats (though time looks to be on its side), but it shares their spirit of daring and diversity, and their desire to move forward when there seems to be nowhere else to go. All the elements of previous White Stripes records surface again, but in weirder, more intense strains that don't break with Jack and Meg White's past, yet don't slavishly adhere to it, either. Scattered throughout and mixed together are elements of blues and country, as well as songs simple enough for children to sing, but raucous enough that they could only come from the far side of puberty, tempered by a vulnerability that can border on desperation. A track so quiet it's barely there, "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" captures the ache of a relationship about to go wrong. It's followed by the seven-minute "Ball And Biscuit," a bath of sexual braggadocio that resurrects the folk staple of the seventh son, invests the word "biscuit" with never-before-considered connotations, boasts Jack's first recorded guitar solo, and features the meanest blues to come out of England—where the Detroit natives recorded Elephant on decades-old equipment—since the days of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. The Stripes make both songs equally convincing, which speaks to a talent that the rest of the album confirms with each track. Burt Bacharach and Hal David's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself" already channeled the sound of a life that had its bottom drop out, but here, it's re-created with an almost demonic fervor. "There's No Home For You Here" underscores its point with a seemingly bottomless chorus of multi-tracked Jack Whites. Taking a break from her heartbeat thump, Meg even takes a moment in the spotlight on "In The Cold Cold Night," and somehow, before the album ends, a self-help lecture about a squirrel becomes a great piece of rock 'n' roll. The credits roll over an endearing joke of a song called "It's True That We Love One Another," in which Jack annoys Meg and flirts with guest star Holly Golightly, who winds up Elephant asking for a cup of tea. It's a final surprise on an album that's full of them, and that offers rewards long after the surprises have worn away.
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