Even someone who’s never heard of The White Stripes would recognize the opening notes from “Seven Nation Army,” the lead-off track from the band’s sprawling and audacious fourth album, Elephant. Featuring Jack White’s pulsing riff and Meg White’s unflinching beat, the appropriately titled “Seven Nation Army” became a world-conquering hit, a song that’s served as a score for every sort of athletic event since Elephant’s release in 2003—and the tune that solidified The White Stripes’ status as one of the mightiest rock bands in the world. For most of the song’s nearly four-minute runtime, that low-end lick curls like a snake ready to strike, providing the platform for Jack to vent about all of the gossip that the duo’s nascent fame had rendered. “I’m going to Wichita/Far from this opera forevermore,” he sings, coming down from one of rock music’s most splenetic solos. “I’m gonna work the straw/Make the sweat drip out of every pore.” What follows for the next 50 minutes is arguably the premier expression of The White Stripes’ time as a band, thanks to Elephant’s blend of piledriving rock songs and quixotic pieces, all of which reimagine just what Meg and Jack White could do. “Black Math” is a savage punk burner, dreamt up as a retort to a horrible high-school math teacher. “Hypnotize,” meanwhile, is a come-hither paroxysm, Meg’s drums pushing Jack toward his next paramour as if she’s anxious to offload her ex. And even while being knighted as rock’s next great savior, Jack found vim for a tirade of the ostracized on “The Hardest Button to Button.” If you came to Elephant looking for the then-fabled Detroit noisemakers who pounded their instruments, the album did not disappoint. But the true payoff of Elephant, the bulk of which was recorded without computers at London’s Toe Rag Studios, is what the Whites were willing to try—and how often they succeeded. Backed by a Hammond organ’s bass, there is Meg’s fairy-tale-like solo vocal turn during “In the Cold, Cold Night,” which is soon followed by the desperate blues of Jack’s “You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket.” The duo conjures Queen on “There’s No Home For You Here,” and combines John Lee Hooker and pure noise-rock on the innuendo-driven “Ball and Biscuit”—the longest song the pair ever put to tape. When Elephant ends with “It’s True That We Love One Another,” a campy sing-along featuring the Stripes’ hero and spiritual forebear Holly Golightly, the future seems wide open for The White Stripes—and with it, the ballyhooed next act of rock ’n’ roll.

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