A Short Eulogy on The White Stripes

As Edwin Stanton is reported to have said of Abraham Lincoln, so too do The White Stripes now belong to the ages. Their farewell message was a symbolic passing of the band’s legacy into the realms of opinion pieces and frenzied listens to Seven Nation Army in the depths of night. Although few tears are being shed over a band that haven’t played live since 2009, album sales are well up as fans attempt to complete the set. Commercially brilliant or not, there really is nothing like rushing out to buy or listen to an album that everyone else is listening to.

‘It is for a myriad of reasons, but mostly to preserve What is beautiful and special about the band and have it stay that way.

“The White Stripes do not belong to Meg and Jack anymore. The White Stripes belong to you now and you can do with it whatever you want. The beauty of art and music is that it can last forever if people want it to. Thank you for sharing this experience. Your involvement will never be lost on us and we are truly grateful.”

Of the many opinion pieces explaining the brilliance of The White Stripes, ‘raw power’, ‘whole lotta noise for a two-piece’ and ‘riffs’ feature amongst the most frequently occurring phrases. There is a good piece in the Guardian by Laura Barton about the band’s connection with Detroit and the revival of that musical scene.

Of course, the intensity of The White Stripes is a good part of the reason why they are not the Ting Tings. But even if the Ting Tings were to crank up the volume and add a bit of distortion, they would still lack that mercurial quality that really made The White Stripes great (and I’m willing to bet they always stick to a setlist).

Coming at the end of a musical decade where the choice in America was between the soft rock of Lenny Kravitz or Bon Jovi and the grunge of Nirvana and Pearl Jam (or the Spice Girls and Britpop in Britain, where The White Stripes were indisputably popular), Jack White tapped into a slightly more distant past with old equipment, musical storytelling and a riff-based formula. There were songs like The Big Three Killed My Baby, which sounded serious enough to be a protest song, but flippant enough to be ironic. Who could fail to fall for something as enigmatic as Dylan, and as bluesy as Led Zeppelin? Even a Dolly Parton cover worked brilliantly.

By the time they came to release White Blood Cells in 2001, all those ingredients were combining on songs about being a gentleman, Citizen Kane and a grotty little place called Hotel Yorba. It was a coming of age album – mainstream enough to get significant airtime on MTV, confronting the pressures of fame, and still upbeat and zestful.

If White Blood Cells was enough to ensure that The White Stipes were here to stay, it also marked something of a turning point. While Elephant, their 2003 follow-up, concentrated on making their signature sound more expressive, and spinning out longer songs, the band were moving in a more experimental direction that culminated in 2007’s Icky Thump. Icky Thump, released after the first Raconteurs album, suggest that Jack was outgrowing the simple drums and guitar formula. But it still listens well, particularly Conquest and A Martyr for My Love for You.

Jack White may be busy, and one of his best insights of recent years is that it is mainly women who are making the interesting music today (Wanda Jackson, Laura Marling, Alison Mosshart and apparently Norah Jones have been among the very good reasons for White to take a backseat recently). But to date he has created nothing as innovative, or as liberated as the Stripes. The Raconteurs have produced a few decent collaborations, and The Dead Weather come to life when White plays guitar, but both these acts lack the creativity he gives full reign to when playing with Meg White.

Perhaps married life doesn’t suit Jack White. As The Onion pointed out, the road ahead is somewhat easier for Meg. It would be a tragic waste, and quite unexpected if White didn’t come storming back in his idiosyncratic way, but as the now defunct band point out, we’ll always have the music.

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