The White Stripes? Elephant begins with a hulking stomp that sounds the death of nu-garage. It is an ominous ghost-moan of a bass line which low-thumps into prophetic, apocalyptical imagery that feels even more prophetic and apocalyptical considering the temper of the times.?Seven Nation Army? is the first single and the first song on the record, and it is quite the soused-up, eyes-on-the-prize, getting-head-in-the-loo debutant ball. After the bass intro (which is bound to make a lotta folks go, ?Bass? On a White Stripes record? Jigga wha?!?) White and White wrangle their way through what seems like a love song, but by the time Jack sings ?everyone knows about it / from the Queen of England to the hounds of hell,? you know there?s a much bigger picture developing.?Seven Nation Army? is the only way The White Stripes could have announced their big league debut. There was just too much riding on those tires, too many pent-up folks paying attention to every scrap and strain of sound, just waiting for Jack and Meg to slip. But the two of ?em done it right, and Elephant will, in time, silence the nagging haters.The single is one of supernatural ferocity that goes from shimmy-dancing bass grooves to a balls-out slide geetar skid towards fiery death over the frozen, craggy embankment. They may be dressed as ?dead country stars? on the album cover, but they still got some hot magma and brimstone in their bellies. It?s blues, but chances are it doesn?t sound like any blues you?ve ever heard.
?Wooo-oooh-WHEE! I SURE got the blues this morning, baby / and I?m here to tell you about it? ?Jimi Hendrix ?Stepping Stone,? live
The White Stripes have always been blues in the way that Hendrix was blues. They might not have followed piously to the 12-bars, but the feeling was always there. Elephant, like Hendrix? better stuff, has that midnight-at-the-crossroads, summer-sweat-and-fireflies, ?bout-to-lose- your-soul-but-you-just-don?t-care-?cuz-everything-feels-so-dead vibe. It?s blues gut-deep down, no matter if it sounds like Zeppelin or The Mamas and The Papas or Robert Johnson. The spirit is there. That said, none of it was ever real?for any of ?em. Even crazy Robert Johnson knew the power of theater. While oft billed as a no-account blooz savant, Johnson was well-schooled in the art of giving the audience something romantically mysterious to go along with the music. Jimi knew that, too (before he drugged himself into believing he was White or a merman or from Neptune or some stupid shit.) And the Whites are right up there with cousin Jimi and brother Robert. Given their battles with the press, Jack and Meg know you gotta fake a little and give the crowd something to chew on, something they wanna make out with and comfort and obsess over and dance to long after the bars have closed. But unlike 2001?s White Blood Cells, the new record shows the duo entrenched once again in actual by-the-numbers blues. ?Ball and Biscuit? is the White Stripes? as-yet pinnacle blues moment, beginning with a ronky, dirty guitar honk that conjures Dylan?s ?New Pony? (and what?s with these damn honkies playing Delta blues so convincingly, anyway?). The lyrics are vintage juke-blues mythos: ?It?s quite possible that I?m your third man, girl / but it?s a fact that I?m the seventh son.?The rest of the album, however, runs par for the course of ?Seven Nation Army?: dark and hard, with a paranoid, bent, biblical feel. It?s Revelations? fire and rain, frogs and locusts. It?s Black American roots music that sounds both ancient and more modern than anything their peers are hashin? out. And that?s the way good music should be: both intensely familiar and like nothing you?ve ever heard before.By the last song, ?It?s True That We Love Each Other,? the record?s heavy-handed tone is dumped for a ditzy singalong with Billy Childish confidant, Holly Golightly. Like dysfunctional ole ?Creeque Alley,? Jack, Holly and Meg?the latter who comes to dis, ?You know, I don?t care because Jack really bugs me??bicker and tease and harmonize before cutting off completely to the sound of a studio technician ending their session. And like that, it?s over. No trailing faux-experimental wonka wonka woo woo crap like Beck or hidden tracks like every single band for the last 10 years. Just 14 pieces of good sound, and a hard and fast answer to all of us who?ve been asking for so long, what will happen, what will happen?The White Stripes play with Whirlwind Heat on April 30 at SOMA. 619-226-7662.