Sunday, September 6, 2009

#11 Astro

It's 1999. You are in Detroit. You stop off at the Magic Stick for a drink. You feel like dancing. Well you better hope that The White Stripes are playing Astro.

It's a not-often discussed aspect of The White Stripes, particularly at this stage in their career, but they do have a great pop sensibility at times. I mean they can come up with some of the wackiest s*** to grace the airwaves (Icky Thump, Blue Orhid) but when you look at songs like You're Pretty Good Looking or You Don't Know What Love Is you can see how they really have an admiration for the great pop songwriters (well I guess that explains the Brendan Benson collaboration). In 2000 the band were very much into the punk DIY aesthetic so you'd be hard pressed to find a break-away pop hit but Astro shows some symptoms. In reality you would have to be crazy to think it would make it into the charts but maybe in Detroit clubs it could become a dance floor staple. A boy can dream.

All the parts are here. You've got the guitar hook, the heavy drum beat and the repetitive sing along lyrics. And with Jack always telling you about people doing the Astro it really is asking for it's own dance. I was too young in 99 and I sure as hell wasn't in Detroit so I can only guess what song had people grooving the most during those early shows but this certainly is a contender. But is that really a good thing. I mean I've enforced the task of making myself write a short essay on this song and that ain't easy. It begs the question: Is this too simple, even for the Stripes? Not quite but can anyone claim Astro is their favorite song? I didn't think so. It's fun but I've said that twice already so where do I go from here?

Astro is a perfect example of the fundamental flaw with the first album, as it is based on material culled from live sets, what stands tall as bursts of energy on the stage often fall flat in their recorded form. Jack may have foreseen this because when speaking of the recording sessions, Jim Diamond describes how Jack specified he wanted the album to sound like a live show. In some ways every recording artist claims an allegiance to this idea but this album is a rare example of a band following through and delivering something that's fidelity is sabotaged to give it an unpolished quality. Jack's certainly too smart to not separate the two platforms of the band's output at all but in many ways he succeeds here in making an album that's exuberance leaps off the record creating an adrenaline rush of an album.... which let's us overlook some possibly half-done songs?

The point I can draw from Astro is that as a cohesive whole The White Stripes holds up as a highlight due to it's sheer ferocity but take it apart song by song, which is exactly what I am doing, and you may find holes. So does that mean that there's a problem with my method or is the album fundamentally flawed? I think we know the answer.

In many ways it's an album that stands as the polar opposite to their most recent release Icky Thump where every song could be the starting point for a different album. It's an age-old debate over the formula for a classic album: the elective approach versus the cohesive approach. Both valid stances to take. Both great albums. But for the purposes of this blog the former is more difficult to maintain, hence the gap between posts. So on paper songs like Astro have their shortcomings.

That being said, I highly doubt anyone would protest when that stomping riff is pulled out at any White Stripes concert.

5 comments:

  1. i especially liked this review. i agree 100% with you. it's very noticeable how WS's first two albums work most as a whole. that's why their breakthrough album was white blood cells, works as an album and as single songs

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  2. Hi. I'm also a somewhat-obsessive Jack White blogger, and I've just stumbled on your site. It's a great idea! Keep writing, I'll be reading.

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  3. I love how jack backs up Tesla and bashes Edison!

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  4. they'd be playing at the gold dollar in 99, not the magic stick. fyi.

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  5. If you give the White Stripes website a check you'll see they played the Magic Stick more often then the Gold Dollar in 99.

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