Sunday, July 5, 2009

#1 Let's Shake Hands

To even the most common White Stripes fan it's easy to get behind (no pun intended) Jack White when he says that the band will never surpass their first album. Sure there's that raw detroit sound which in theory can be off-putting to the casual listener but really the album boasts enough catchy songs and clever production for it to go down well. Take into consideration that a band, whose most polished efforts are considered an example of the rawer side of rock 'n' roll these days, debuted with something that makes their later work sound like it could've been produced by Phil Spector. Okay that's an exaggeration but basically what I'm trying to get across is that The White Stripes self-titled debut is far-removed in terms of shimmer from later albums. Almost all White Stripes fans have had the moment where upon discovering Elephant or White Blood Cells or maybe even De Stjil go to their local record store and pick up a copy of their new favorite band's debut and upon listening to it feel like they have plunged into the depths of the bands rough origins that the radio is to terrified to play. However this isn't the case. Because, while we think we have a high tolerance for low fidelity recordings because we adore the debut, when pressed most White Stripes fans can't quite get behind Jack White when he says nothing the band creates will surpass their debut single: the ferocious Let's Shake Hands.

From the second it starts, Let's Shake Hands let's your ears knows that they're in for an aural roller-coaster: exhilarating but will leave them feeling extremely unwell afterwards. The recording is the very definition of lo-fi and this isn't helped by the fact that the only way for your average person to get hold of it is to download a poor digital transfer (even the officially released transfer leaves a lot to be desired). Really the only way to listen to this song is on vinyl and that will really blow a hole in your wallet. Which is a crying shame because I almost can get behind Jack White when he says that Let's Shake Hands is their best song. The reason being that even though it would not be my choice for personal favorite it tells you all you need to know about the band in under two minutes.

As I've dedicated an entire blog to him it's easy to guess that Jack White is my favorite figure in music, at least modern music. So if you put on Let's Shake Hands I could provide a commentary through the entire song listing every point that makes the man what he is as they present themselves. First thing that's noticeable is the guitar which is so childishly simple but at the same time more complex than any shredder could ever hope they could be. While now everyone can appreciate Jack's virtuosity via Blue Veins or Ball & Biscuit, what initially drew me to him as a guitarist is that he never plays a chord the same way twice. If given a choice between listening to Joe Satriani solo forever or Jack White strum a G chord forever I would go with the latter because his strive for childish imperfection gives his playing a completely unique richness, while his natural ability as a guitarist never makes it undesirable to listen to. This is extremely noticeable all through Let's Shake Hands, if this song had been recorded during the elephant sessions it probably would have come out as one of the most disposable tracks on the album but in it's complete Detroite garage glory it stands out as a career highlight. The same thing is true of the vocals, while later years would see Jack's singing becoming more restrained and subtle for recordings (it retained it's power in concert), here he simply shrieks his way through it in a way that has become a source of comfort in his studio output from De Stjil to Conolers Of The Lonely. And of course while it's now hard to think too hard about the bread and butter of every White Stripes recording, here the snare/crash/kick stylings of Ms. Meg White are something to cherish.

The performance that is the White Stripes debut single sounds like the band are playing as if their first opportunity would be their last. They throw all their cards on the table and put everything into not even two minutes of music. Nowadays it seems preferable to listen to the better quality live recordings that exist but that's missing the point. While I personally believe that The White Stripes have recorded better songs since I can see where Jack is coming from because when you put on that first song you can tell that it was recorded with the mindset that it never would be surpassed, and to me that's how one should approach recording a song.


1 comment:

  1. My favorite White Stripes album has always been their self-titled album. Completely raw, unrefined and earnest. Jack has a way with memorable opening riffs; the beginning of Let's Shake Hands was a great early example.

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