It didn’t seem possible the White Stripes could out-catchy themselves (OK, that neologism didn’t work). It didn’t seem the White Stripes’ infectious blend of pop, blues, punk and near-isolationist rumination could get any catchier. But they have. And it has.
The White Stripes are an ongoing tale, told in public, of innocence lost and artistry found. At least, that’s what it seems, judging by the nearly flawless bluster, hum and singsong Jack and Meg lay out on the 16 cuts of White Blood Cells. It’s tempting to read White Blood Cells as the true birth of Jack White, the songwriter, and the White Stripes, the band. Tempting, because when you look over the duo’s three-strong, full-length discography, it’s apparent that the thesis-antithesis-synthesis dynamic is hard at work here. White Stripes: a blast of focused punk energy tempered by blues and the notion that simplicity is inherently good. De Stijl: Experiments in form — pop songwriting, ballads, blues and folk — imposed on images of innocence in the process of being lost or rescued. White Blood Cells: Influences digested and left behind, a band hitting its stride of craft (aka art), making unnecessary such phrases as “minimalist blues” (as at least one local thesaurus-enabled gadfly has lampooned).
All that said (and I’m really sorry if that verbage didn’t rock you), White Blood Cells is, simply, a storyteller-guitarist and a drummer battling disillusionment and optimism with simultaneously disciplined and raw-wound-exposed economy. The White Stripes are modernists in a postmodern world — they mean it, feel it and have worked hard to figure out how to express it. What is “it?” A yearning for connection and clarity through music in a fucked-up world? Something like that. There are love songs, songs about lost love, songs about complicated love, songs about what it means to be a man who loves a woman who may or may not love a man who may not quite know what it means to be a man. You know the story well, but you probably haven’t heard it told quite this way.
Hum along. By the second spin on the CD player, you’ll know the words. And you won’t be able to get them out of your head.