The White Stripes – White Blood Cells (2001)
What a fantastic album! When this was released, back in 2001, I was watching a lot of alternative music television and was pulled in by a very catchy, raw song which had a video featuring a clever Lego brick animation. That song was “Fell In Love With A Girl” and it led me to buy the album from the music shop at London Victoria station, which is where I was working at the time. As soon as I heard it, I was hooked; it was powerful, exciting and soon became one of my favourites of the year. I just loved the sparse but mighty combination of guitar, really high up in the mix, drums and White’s yelping vocals. The songs, too… each one of them absolute diamonds. The Strokes were also a band being touted as the next big thing at the time, but if it was a direct competition between the two groups, The White Stripes captured my heart very early on and, to me, it wasn’t even a close-run thing. They just had a lot more heart and… well, balls.
The album starts superbly, with a the picking up of drumsticks, a squeal of feedback and then launches into the instant classic, “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground”, a song that, instead of a chorus, merely assaults the eardrums with a nice, chunky loud chord sequence. “Hotel Yorba”, a catchy little song written about a terrible hotel that was a few streets away from where Jack grew up, is a raucous acoustic guitar-led sing-along. One of my very favourites on the album, “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentlemen” adds piano to the guitar and drums and then the brash, crashing “Fell In Love With A Girl” explodes onto the stereo and the infectious tune, funny lyrics and the “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah” hook all combine to make this one of the best sub-two minute songs of all time. “Expecting”, a loud, uncompromising piece, was a track that took a little time to like, but now it’s one I love whereas “Little Room” is a very short, but catchy, song and one I enjoy singing along to. “The Union Forever” is a dark, minor-key, organ-soaked, passionate track, strongly influenced by Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” and “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” is almost the direct opposite, with a gentle, wistful vocal performance over one of White’s more melodic musical compositions.
One of the most remarkable tracks on “White Blood Cells” is “We’re Going To Be Friends”, which is a truly beautiful, touching narrative featuring just White’s vocals and picked acoustic guitar. It’s a story of childhood friendship, but it’s the small details that makes the difference. My favourite verse is the conclusion of the song, “Tonight I’ll dream while in my bed/when silly thoughts go through my head/about the bugs and alphabet/and when I wake tomorrow I’ll bet/that you and I will walk together again/I can tell that we are going to be friends”, which takes me back, shamelessly nostalgic about childhood, to a much simpler time in life. “Offend In Every Way” is almost just as good, but it a completely different way, with a fantastic guitar line in a moody, minor key and excellent lyrics. The closest thing to a dip in quality on this album is “I Think I Smell A Rat”, followed by “Aluminium”, both songs being not quite as good as anything else on offer here. Another one of my very favourite White Stripes songs is “I Can’t Wait”, an angry, weighty tale of a lover spurned, with a perfect, outraged, betrayed vocal from Jack. Absolutely phenomenal. The album ends strongly with the jaunty “Now Mary”, the excellent, dramatic “I Can Learn” and the piano-led “This Protector”. There are so many top-drawer songs on “White Blood Cells”, it takes time to absorb just exactly how stellar it is. It sounds fantastic on the first listen, but by the time you get to your fifth or sixth play, it blows the mind with just how much creativity and, yes, genius is on display here.
In my opinion, although they came close, they never bettered this album. This was the point where they reached the pinnacle of their success and, while they stayed at their peak for some time, “White Blood Cells” was a musical revelation to so many people, myself included, so it remains the starting point of so many fans’ collections and a special record, not only for that, but because it had the power to break through into the mainstream and make so many individuals fall in love with the band’s songs and sound. Not bad for a self-produced album, recorded in less than a week, released on an independent label, is it? The lyrical themes of love and betrayal as well as the humour and playfulness make this a beautiful marriage of music and words, which goes a long way to explain the popularity and the appeal of this work… oh, and that great video with the Lego in it, obviously.