White Blood Cells
For listeners who harbor an elemental faith in rock ’n’ roll, 2001’s White Blood Cells might be a perfect album. The songs have the universal quality of classic rock (“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Offend in Every Way”), but its delivery—Meg White’s primitive drumming, Jack White’s bare-bones arrangements—feels rooted in punk (“Hotel Yorba”). They democratize the process by making it sound easy (“Little Room”), but they also lay bare how deceptive “easy” can be (“Fell in Love With a Girl”). And as unpretentious as the sound is, there’s something mysterious about it, too: a tiny machine whose movements seem less obvious the more you watch it work (“The Union Forever”).
Jack White remembers hearing “Fell in Love With a Girl” on the radio next to the heavily produced hard rock of bands like Staind and Incubus, and wondering what The White Stripes were doing there. Of course White, who is as opinionated in interviews as he is enigmatic on record, knows: They were cutting through the noise and advancing the maxim that less might actually be more. Listeners who dismiss them as retro miss the broader point: With White Blood Cells, The White Stripes organize the sprawling, bluesy sounds of ’70s rock into something clear, minimal, and modern—less a personal expression than than a simple, reliable chair.
So it’s no coincidence that Jack White used to work as an upholsterer: They play like a band that honors craft. And if they spare you their rare fabrics and excess embellishment, it’s because they know that a happy customer is a good customer, and, like any honest business, they want to pass the savings on to you. White Blood Cells doesn’t go back to the basics so much as remind you that the basics are always there.