Every few years rock music gets a little too flashy for its own good, and a crop of back-to-basics rock groups will arise to do away with the genre’s excesses. In the past, bands like Nirvana have taken on this duty ("grunge" to kill glam metal and synth pop), and more recently, so have the White Stripes (garage rock to kill boy/girl bands and limp rock).
On White Blood Cells, the album that thrust Jack and Meg White into the spotlight, the group got so back to basics that they even forgot to include a bassist in the band. Their latest release Elephant finds the group filling out their sound with such oddball instruments as bass guitar and electric piano. The added instruments create songs that are more complete than their predecessors from previous albums, but unfortunately do not push the band toward exploring different styles of music. This lack of diversity was the downfall of White Blood Cells and unfortunately continues with Elephant.
That being said, for what they are, the songs on Elephant are genuinely enjoyable. This album finds songwriter Jack White developing his craft, creating lyrics that go beyond the typical angst ridden material put forth by most of the band’s peers. There is a distinct literary flair in the songs of Elephant. The sound is not too removed from that of White Blood Cells; however, each track barely reaches the piercing intensity of any track on that album, with the possible exceptions of "Hynotize" and "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine." But even these tracks, with its sloppy execution and snotty vocals, seem empty and half-assed.
Guest Vocalist Holly Golightly (unfortunately not Audrey Hepburn) lends her voice to a few tracks on this album, most enjoyably the duet "It’s True that We Love One Another." The song, which is sung as a dialogue between Jack White and Golightly is rather charming, as is an interesting cover of Burt Bacharach’s "I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself."
In somewhat of a misguided boast, the band remarks on the liner notes for Elephant that computers were not used in the creation of the album. While the Amish style of record production is not without merit, it doesn’t help the White Stripes achieve a clean sounding recording of their already sloppy musicianship, and it severely limits the sonic territory they can explore. Though it is kind of funny that their attempts to remain analog will be negated by the fact that everyone will be buying the polycarbonate CD version.
Sad as it may be, there is a finite amount of time that the loud and sloppy approach that The White Stripes employ can remain popular. The White Stripes had better evolve or they are at risk for being left behind.
1. Seven Nation Army
2. Black Math
3. There's Just No Home for You Here
4. I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself
5. Cold, Cold Night
6. I Want to be With the Boy
7. You've Got Her in Your Pocket
8. Ball and Biscuit
9. The Hardest Button to Button
10. Little Acorns
12. The Air Near My Fingers
13. Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine
14. It's True That We Love One Another