Wednesday, February 2, 2011

No More Peppermint Punk Blues

The Whites Stripes at the Reading Festival, UK, 2002

It couldn’t have struck anyone who follows music very closely as a huge surprise when Jack and Meg White, the pseudo-siblings known as The White Stripes, today announced the end of the band. Jack White has long-been as busy with other projects as he has in perpetuating the red, white and black duo’s amped up, rear-view referential, full-frontal assault song craft.

For the past dozen years or so, the duo made stripped down, old-timey country blues – albeit heavily distorted and extremely loud with a drumbeat that could’ve just been a stomping foot – amazingly hip to the modern masses. Somehow they struck a chord and reached heights of popularity far beyond what one could reasonably expect out of such simplistic artistry.

And, yes, as easy as it might be to dismiss the band as a contrived novelty, there was artistry. Sure there was the gimmickry, too: the whole former-husband-and-wife-posing-as-brother-and-sister thing, as well as the strict tricolor palette. But look beneath the surface and you can’t totally dismiss the sensibility of the “innocence,” “passion,” “experience” color theme, or deny its relevance in the band’s music.

Simple as the sound was, The White Stripes understood dynamics and song arrangements, not to mention the raw power of a ripping, sustained guitar chord backed by a simple beat and topped with a plaintive vocal plea. Under Jack’s deft hand, they knew how to draw you in and take you on a hell-bent ride to the finish. Over the years, I saw them live twice: once in a small club in Providence (the second loudest show I’ve ever seen, I think) and once in a small arena in Boston. Both were artfully noisy affairs that I remember fondly.

While their passion for the music’s unadorned heritage was obviously sincere, they were uniquely successfully in fusing shades of Charley Patton, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn and a whole-lotta Led Zeppelin (the real essence of Zep, not those Wolfmother, Blackbud, Black Country Communion, et al, superficial, pseudo-metal miscarriages of the legacy).

In the end, however, the band had run its course. There wasn’t much further they could take it while retaining the essence of who they were and how they did what they did. The time had come for the final bows.

So bravo that they realized that and decided to call it a day. Here’s to ’em! They made music that was simple, sincere, spirited, fun and engaging. That’s success in my book. And, I suspect, somewhere even Son House is smilin’.

One of the quintessential White Stripes songs ... Doesn’t hurt when you get Michel Gondry to do your videos, either!

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