Rhythm & Views

White Stripes

Schtick is a double-edged sword--ask Kiss, Clinic, Jim Varney. Unless your "bit" is by comparison understated--ZZ Top's beards, for instance--it seems certain that you must eventually cut bait and countenance life in a "normal" fashion if you expect to maintain any semblance of a career without ridicule. God knows it wouldn't have been nearly as scandalous for Paul Reubens to be caught helmet-polishing in an adult theater had he not hoisted himself on the petard of Pee Wee.

So the question is raised, as the sand grain of nascent stardom develops into the pearl of backlash: When are the White Stripes going to lose the goofy shit? The red and white outfits? The fake-ass brother and sister thing? The risible, Frank N. Furter-esque lecturing and sophomoric poetry of Jack White in various forums? When will they stop calling fans "candy cane children," ferchrissake?

It's obvious from the opening note of Elephant that all that retarded crap is totally unnecessary. Never mind the fact that Meg is to drummers what Linda McCartney is to vocalists--the songs on Elephant are shit-hot even when recycling Delta Blues and Zeppelin, which is to say, most of the time. "Seven Nation Army" is about the strongest lead-off track these ears have heard since "Debaser." Other scorchers include "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine" and "The Hardest Button to Button." All three embody the White Stripes' ability to capture a feeling of non-specific menace--slightly scary but you don't know why. It's "devil music" without all the Satan.

If you weren't aware of the "vintage" feel the group tries to achieve on this record, it's not their fault. Their self-conscious Ludditism is worn like a badge of anti-technology honor. To wit: "No computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing or mastering of this record." Supposedly, none of the equipment used was made after 1963 or some such. Well, whoopty shit. I'm still waiting for my copy on Edison Wax Cylinder but there was a fire at the factory and they haven't received any of my cables about a re-order.

But "vintage" claptrap aside, the songs themselves seem from an earlier era, which is refreshing in these days of seemingly endless pop-punk and nü-metal bands. "There's No Home For You Here," for instance, would not have been out of place on the Jesus Christ Superstar or Hair soundtracks, and that's praise, believe it or not.

Overall, the White Stripes' fourth album is recommended, especially for those of you not affected by the attendant nonsense. But if gimmickry and hype make your skin crawl, perhaps you should forget Elephant.

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