TO: Jack White

Todd Weiser

Singer/songwriter/guitarist

The White Stripes

Southwest Detroit, MI

Dear Jack,

We need to talk.

Somewhere between those first dirty little underground singles,
each a tiny explosion of garage blues-punk positively drooling with
raw potential, and the recent outburst of overblown industry hype
that engulfed you and your sister/ex-wife/drummer, well things got
confusing. Listening to the new album, Elephant isn’t necessarily
helping either.

The buzz built slowly around your first three albums, then it
erupted in Britain roughly two years ago. Their rapid music press
fawned over you until their stateside counterparts caught up and
joined in the love fest. Respectable and crappy bands alike have
profited from clinging to your red-and-white coattails. While it’s
safe to say we all pretty much like peppermints, if they’re
continually shoved down our throats, we’re gonna gag on them soon
or later.

Still, we put up with the candy-striped motifs, tirades against
modernization, idealized childlike posing and cryptic fairy tales
about your past, all which suspiciously reeked of gimmicks and
put-ons. We’ve been looking past the eccentricities and
contradictions so far because A) these are desperate times, we’ll
take whatever meaningful music we can, no matter what muddled
post-modern packaging it comes wrapped in, B) despite your
rudimentary approach, your songs display a flat-out stunning range
of reference, including the best parts of delta blues, Tin Pan
Alley, country, the British Invasion and the Detroit garage antics
of the Stooges and MC5, C) behind the hipster/art pretense, there
was an honest-to-god Rock and Roll band that cut straight to the
core of what still made picking up a guitar worthwhile.

Doubtfully, not many self-professed minimalists would have
endured the spotlight scrutiny like you and Meg have been,
carefully teetering between the mainstream and indie scenes while
taking cyclical praise and backlash from both fronts. Correct me if
I’m wrong Mr. White, but Elephant is the climax of that ambiguity,
surprisingly both an engaging and frustrating cop-out of a
record.

The lead single “Seven Army Nation” is knowingly a war cry of
determination, an anthem about sticking to your guns under fire and
that seems what you want the Stripes to do. Yet your fans are
getting pretty wise to the patterns of your songwriting, as much of
Elephant follows along the now-predictable melodies and bipolar
dynamics that are being ripped off right and left by any number of
shagged haired knock-offs. Frankly you’re still one up-ing the
posers, but if things stay at status quo much longer, you’ll be
hard-pressed to pull off self-parody again. Just because your
passionate songwriting and guitar fireworks have carried you this
far, don’t assume you can keep resting on your laurels.

Oddly you record probably your most progressive and consciously
produced album in England, reportedly in an ancient 8-track studio
with ridiculously outdated equipment. You keep celebrating
simplicity and honesty, even as the world seems ever-increasingly
complex and twisted. Elephant bubbles over with indulgent Jimmy
Page manic soloing, yet, at the same time, you give Meg more focus
then she’s ever had before (as her drumming notably grows steadier
and she takes over vocals on the haunting “In the Cold, Cold
Night”).

You sound caught between self-imposed innocence and reluctant
world-weariness. You’re cynical and grouchy enough to rant against
videogames and “opportunistic, lottery ticket holders” in the
album’s liner notes, but able to sing painfully earnest lines like
“I want be the boy to warm your mother’s heart” and “be like the
squirrels” with a straight face.

By the way, still no idea why you decided to sample former
WDIV-TV anchor Mort Crim talking about salvation through squirrels
on his radio show for “Little Acorn.”

Jack this is your last chance to be both boyish (like on the
mama’s boy ballad “The Air Near My Fingers”) and manly (the
aggressive “Ball and Biscuit” and seductive “Hypnotize”). You got
away with having it both ways on Elephant, but make the choice and
just grow up already.

Rating: 4 Stars.

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