The White Stripes – De Stijl (2000)
The White Stripes’ second album is one of my favourite releases by the Detroit duo and has a slightly more measured, richer feeling than their raw, explosive début but still manages to keep a satisfyingly hard blues edge and the minimalist approach to instrumentation, with the vast majority of the tracks featuring nothing but Jack White’s guitar and vocals plus Meg’s drums. The virtuoso talent of Jack and the loose, characteristic drumming of Meg makes them sound like nothing that ever came before. You can see why they were massively popular at the time and why this album made their fan base grow substantially. I wish I could claim to have been an early supporter, but, like the vast majority of fans, I was bowled over by what was to be their next release, “White Blood Cells”. I bought this (and the first) album directly after that one and loved this one almost as much.
Opening with the quirky, catchy and likeable “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)” which is a great number, even though the bridge sounds a little like Cher’s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)”, it immediately gets even better with “Hello Operator”, a powerful slice of blues with a couple of likeable rim-shot solos from Meg and a blast of Harmonica from John Szymanski. “Little Bird” continues the hard-edged blues theme with some superb slide guitar from Jack. “Apple Blossom” and “I’m Bound To Pack It Up” offer some variety, the former being a piano-driven foot-tapper and the latter sounding a little like Led Zeppelin during their more introspective, folk moments. “Sister, Do You Know My Name”, whilst not the best track on the album, has the hallmarks of Jack’s writing and is a definite hint of what was to come. One of my picks from the album is the superb “Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise”, sounding just like it was recorded in a dusty bar with an old upright piano. “Jumble, Jumble” is also a personal favourite, being a brilliantly brash, belligerent track which would have fitted in on the first album perfectly and “Why Can’t You Be Nicer To Me” has a persistent dirty riff that makes the song irresistible, as well as a beautifully moody electric violin.
The two covers, Son House’s “Death Letter” and Blind Willie McTell’s “Your Southern Can Is Mine” are very enjoyable and worthy (and certainly explain White’s influences) but it when White performs his own material that he particularly shines. “De Stijl” (so named because of Jack’s admiration of the art movement) is a definite progression from their very raw début and introduces a few extra dimensions to their work, which they would then expand even further as their career progressed. It’s an excellent album, though, and easily stands alongside the best of The White Stripes’ work and it’s not a shock that it is many fans’ favourite, although it has to be said that there is stiff competition from their subsequent releases. At the time of release, it was a refreshing antidote to the commercial pop and rock of the time and, even listening to it today, it provides something honest, beautifully simplistic and pleasingly different, even though much of it has its roots in a style of music, the blues, which has been popular (to varying degrees) for the last century. In other words, it’s a little bit special.