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The White Stripes: White Blood Cells

The White Stripes' shtick may get the band noticed, but it takes just a few seconds to realize it has much more going for it than that. The duo consists of Jack and Meg White, a purported brother-and-sister (actually ex-husband-and-wife) team from Detroit who, as of their first single, adopted an unchanging peppermint color scheme and a tendency to dedicate albums to such diverse figures as Blind Willie McTell and Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld. But the Whites come by their influences honestly: Last year's De Stijl, for example, found them applying Rietveld's design principles to the album's packaging, and their music reveals a dedication that suggests its McTell references are taken no more lightly. Opening with the thickest blues riff this side of a Muddy Waters live album (or, at least, early Foghat), White Blood Cells proceeds to reveal a megastore's worth of influences, from pre-war country blues to golden-age pop songcraft to radical reworkings of Captain Beefheart. Most importantly, blended together, the music sounds like rock 'n' roll. Even with its spare lineup—Meg behind the drums and Jack manning every other instrument but sticking mostly to electric guitar—The White Stripes can create an ungodly amount of noise, and it opens White Blood Cells by doing just that. But it makes some of the most memorably melodic ungodly noise on the market. Anyone not won over by the fuzzbox riffs of "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground" should still have a tough time resisting the joyful "Hotel Yorba," an indication of the stylistic diversity to come. Jack White has gone on record as objecting to the postmodern posturing of many indie-rock blues revivalists, a trap his band avoids both musically and lyrically. On the latter front, The White Stripes stays on the opposite end of posturing by dwelling on heartbreak and vulnerability. The gentle "We're Going To Be Friends" may be the album's most shocking track, with a gentle reminiscence of childhood that includes references to "chasing all the ants and worms" and alphabet lessons. Almost by way of apology, it's followed before long by the vicious "I Think I Smell A Rat," a song whose oblique accusations ("All you little kids seem to think you know just where it's at") seem as perfectly suited to 2001's cultural moment as Stevie Wonder's "You Haven't Done Nothing" does to the politics of 1974. Putting McTell and Rietveld behind it, White Blood Cells is dedicated to Loretta Lynn. While her influence never becomes particularly apparent on the album itself, the spirit fits. Lynn performs as if her life depended on it, and, beneath the uniforms, the Whites leave little doubt that they mean to do the same.


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