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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Album of the Week: The White Stripes - "Elephant"

Rating: 8.6/10

From the arena-rocking riff that kicks off "Seven Nation Army" to the studio chatter that rounds up "Well It's True That We Love One Another," Elephant explores spheres of indie, folk, and blues rock in a way only The White Stripes can. The 2003 record combines influences from the aforementioned genres into 14 monsotrously powerful yet for the most part brief songs.

The rockier tunes, such as "Black Math" and the album-opening "Seven Nation Army," are riff-heavy romps with brilliant guitar work from singer/guitarist Jack White. The latter is famous for its so-called bass riff (which is actually played on guitar and utilizes a whammy pedal) that's been played time and time again at sporting events. Not to be overlooked is the march-style drum beat and eccentric guitar solo. The former is a shaky sludge of crash cymbals and another catchy guitar riff. "Black Math" then proceeds to suddenly switch tempo into a more deliberate snarl.

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"Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine" is another straightforward, fast-paced 2000's garage rock classic, as is the concise "Hypnotize." The band clearly have adopted some of the characteristics displayed by Detroit rock legends MC5 and The Stooges.

The album's longest piece, "Ball and Biscuit," clocks in at 7:19. You may recognize this bluesy guitar anthem from a heavily-rotated Captain Morgan commercial, as its daring composition sets a definite tone. Drums start-and-stop with a constant stutter, and every now and again, Jack White unleashes a ferocious solo. Like much of Elephant, "Ball and Biscuit" is cenetered around White's magical six-stringed instrument, making him one of rock's last so-called "guitar gods."

"The Hardest Button to Button" is powered by a simple kick-tom beat and White's storytelling-style lyrics. Drummer Meg White is not known for her complexity, which is just fine in a band like The White Stripes, who strip music down to its roots without any bells or whistles in sight.

Between all of the noise are a few acoustic tracks sprinkled throughout. The best of these is album closer "Well It's True That We Love One Another," featuring British vocalist Holly Golightly. It's a semi-sincere, semi-sarcastic folk track that recounts the wholesome music of the '50's and '60's.

Elephant's best moments a clearly during the plugged-in songs, as Jack White is most comfortable when backed by an amplifier. Perhaps this is a bit harsh, as the strength of some of the folkier tracks leave no doubt about White's songwriting ability, but the band sure is a lot more fun when they play the blues. The album's influence is obvious and widespread, with modern acts like The Black Keys, Ty Segall, and even Cage the Elephant all drawing from the sounds of Elephant. It's an apt name for such an enormous album, and stands out as one of the band's best.

Key Tracks: "Seven Nation Army," "Black Math," "The Hardest Button to Button," "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine"

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