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Elephant and the Death of the Sweetheart

by admin on November 14, 2014

The White Stripes’ fourth studio album, Elephant, was one of the band’s most successful and was a defining album in the garage rock revival of the early 2000s among releases from bands such as The Strokes, The Vines, and Arctic Monkeys.  The album pushed the band’s limits as well as the boundaries of the music industry.  Why was this album so monumental to rock revivalists?  Elephant’s success can largely be traced to its primitive raw sound, recording style, and awareness that it brings to listeners about the music industry as well as their own lives.

The White Stripes were always critically acclaimed for their simplicity in their visual aesthetic (all equipment and wardrobe was red, black, and white) and their stripped down blend of blues and punk music.  Jack and Meg White started the band in Detroit in a thriving garage music scene with a strong identity of their hometown that packed a similar sounding punch.  They crafted their sound over a course of three albums and broke completely into the mainstream alternative rock scene with Elephant.  Jack White sets limitations on the band for each album to contribute to creativity and overall tone.  After their third album, where Jack White would not allow himself to play any guitar solos or write any “blues” songs, The White Stripes released Elephant, an album that broke down nearly all of the band’s previous barriers.  It was full of heavy riffs and ripping guitar solos, making literal and figurative noise that caught the attention of the masses.

The masses had been in an industry where electronically produced singles clouded the airwaves and could be pumped out in rapid succession.  Garage rock bands had been slowly gaining momentum and, seemingly simultaneously, an onslaught of bands changed the way people thought about the music they were listening to.  The White Stripes went a step further than the rest and made a daring move in the studio for Elephant.  They only allowed themselves ten days in the studio and used no computers in any aspect of the recording and production of the album, as is stated in the album’s liner notes.  All of the equipment in the studio was from the ‘60s or earlier which added a vintage tinge to the album, a stark contrast with many of the songs being played on pop radio.  The English record sleeves were even made out of recycled elephant dung, just to add to the quirkiness of the final piece.  Elephant snapped people out of their electronic trance and brought raw sound created entirely by human hands to a wider audience than ever before.

Elephant was an album that snapped people back to reality.  It set an example for many other current rock bands and set a new standard for recording.  It was made blatantly clear that one doesn’t need ProTools or even a computer to make a high quality, powerful recording.  Similarly to the noise made by rap groups in the late ‘80s, the songs from the album were loud and brought a sort of societal awareness.  Jack White dedicated the album to “the death of the sweetheart,” a direct statement on his views on society’s evolving lack of reverence for the past.  This album, if released more recently, would make a similar statement, as smartphones and our accessibility to music are growing every day.  We need more noise to snap us back to reality and away from our screens.

by Joseph Flais

Works Cited

“Little Boy Blue.” Mojo Music Magazine 1 Aug. 2014: 73-82. Print.

Thea Butler November 24, 2014 at 9:02 pm

Love this! Love that you did your project on Jack. He is an incredible artist and not enough people know about him or the fact that he tries to stay away from digital plays and promotes records. I think that would be a great thing to include in your paper as well, that he tries to push his music with vinyls. Overall great idea to compare him to a 60’s or 70’s garage band

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