Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The White Stripes

  • White Blood Cells [Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001] A
  • Elephant [V2, 2003] A-
  • Get Behind Me Satan [V2, 2005] A-
  • Icky Thump [Warner Bros., 2007] A-
  • Under Great White Northern Lights [Warner Bros., 2010] *
  • My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You: The White Stripes Greatest Hits [Legacy, 2020] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

White Blood Cells [Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001]
I'm down with the story that rather than brother and sister they're a divorced couple like Quasi. It suggests that Jack White got the blues someplace else besides the blues and grounds his deprived love songs, which are more grounded than Quasi's anyway. This third album is where he takes both love songs and the blues down the road a piece. "The Union Forever" is about marrying for life and also about serving the poor, "Little Room" is about making sex last and also about making indie-rock last, and neither is any richer than "Hotel Yorba," which is about plighting your troth with the one you love most. "If I could hear your pretty voice I don't think I'd need to sing at all," he sings. But all she'll promise is to play the drums. A

Elephant [V2, 2003]
Everybody else's favorite White Stripes album still isn't mine, but I admit I underrated it. This was because I sensed Jack White was the annoying neoprimitivist scold we now know him to be, but hadn't figured out how to process it, which is to ignore his content while giving it up to his formal imagination and command. The game changer here was what we'll call the "Blitzkrieg Bop" effect. When a riff turns into a stadium slam jam the way "Seven Nation Army" has, fools just hate it forever. Me, I lay my offering at the feet of the populist gods and tip my baseball cap to people a lot worse than Jack White. Gary Glitter, most prominently. Hell, Metallica. A-

Get Behind Me Satan [V2, 2005]
From Lil Jon to Thom Yorke, pop supports many cooler celebrities than Jack White, and though returning primitivism to the hit parade was a neat trick, his aesthetic ideas are as limited as Meg's drum technique. So rather than carp about his failure to lead us to salvation, perhaps we should content ourselves with the hit parade. White's commercial success has nothing to do with de Stijl or da blooze--just a strong, emotive voice delivering simple yet distinctive songs, which are fairly numerous here. "My Doorbell," for instance, finds a fresh route to the abandonment theme and adds a little twist when his friends stop buzzing too. "Take, Take, Take" is that difficult thing, a smart song about what a drag fans are. You may prefer others, that's part of the charm. And when he sticks to electric guitar he still rocks plenty. A-

Icky Thump [Warner Bros., 2007]
Jumping from defunct quasi-indie V2 to ailing quasi-major Warner Bros., Jack White pretends his neoplasticism (spare industrial angularity theorized as aesthetic mysticism) is constructivism (brawny industrial angularity theorized as people's practicality). The broad strokes and hot mix are a formalist's populist gesture and a fist shaken at downward market trends. But formalism fans shouldn't let that stop them; immigration fans either. Playing at world, at heavy, at soul, he arts it up plenty and protests a little. A-

Under Great White Northern Lights [Warner Bros., 2010]
The present-day guitar god refuses to die ("Icky Thump," "Seven Nation Army"). *

My Sister Thanks You and I Thank You: The White Stripes Greatest Hits [Legacy, 2020]
After 2010's Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack White's live major-label farewell to the duo abandoned in 2007 by his drum-pounding, publicity-shy purported sister and actual ex-wife Meg, Jack proceeded to self-release a dozen more live White Stripes albums, not one of which made the Billboard 200. He did better with this untimely major-label best-of, a retro flip-off to the streaming era and its unnavigable ocean of "curated" playlists: it debuted at 33 before sinking into oblivion and was dutifully praised by a smattering of retro-friendly reviewers and brought to the next level by a sharp New Yorker piece by Amanda Petrusich mourning the disappearance of the best-of itself. Especially with an artist like White, whose aesthetic attractions are diminished somewhat by his limited personal charm (as is true in a different way of Spoon formalist Britt Daniel, who Petrusich reports put out a 2019 best-of I just ordered 'cause it's not on Spotify), best-ofs serve a real, and flattering, aesthetic function. Beginning with their raggedy-ass indie debut "Let's Shake Hands" and signing off with their stadium-friendly accidental anthem "Seven Nation Army," this one mixes it's-been-too-long triumphs like "Fell in Love With a Girl" and "Hotel Yorba" with I-remember-that-one strokes like "Hardest Button to Button" and "Door Bell." Basically, it's never boring--as Petrusich puts it, here be one "thrill of the single" after another, free of pretense, experiment, and near miss. Go ahead, indulge yourself. A

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