Thursday, September 17, 2009

#12 Broken Bricks

Whenever I go to make a post for a song I always try and listen to that song a few times and not let it play through to others. So I started my turn table, placed the needle at the beginning and when Broken Bricks had finished I stopped it and just began to laugh.

The reason I find the song so funny is that it presents any semi-dedicated listener with an unsolvable problem. The way Jack White sings in his shriek/howl all throughout the song renders the very clever lyrics completely inaudible but it is this style that makes the song what it is. The reason laughter was the only option for me was that going on to criticize the song's supposed shortcomings would be a complete act of futility. If you can't hear the lyrics that's your own damn problem because in it's own special way this song is 1:51 of complete perfection.

Musically Broken Bricks gives the album a real shot in the arm and while it would be utterly ridiculous to call Cannon and Astro calm before a storm this song does seem to up the ante a bit. It's well placed at the beginning of the B Side because it drags the listener kicking and screaming back into the album and never really stops to breath. Outside the context of it's album it's important because this "ruthless garage thrasher" mould for a song gets used so much throughout the times of The White Stripes that it's hard t0 think of the band without Broken Bricks (well im sure they would have still used this mould but the track's still of somewhat importance). Think of Black Math or Girl You Have No Faith In Medicine even breakthrough hit Fell In Love With A Girl owes something to this take-no-prisoners style. It's probably worth noting that this more accurately begins with Let's Shake Hands but by Broken Bricks it's on another level and maybe better than ever a studio track manages to capture their live spirit.

Of course what makes Broken Bricks such a sick joke is that it's lyrics, that no one has ever managed to hear, are more or less genius. One of the important things to have in mind when doing any kind of examination of the lyrics of this album are the quite poignant liner notes Jack provides. More than later albums it's easy to see how Jack expresses the theme he chooses in his notes when listening to the songs (I mean can anyone say that "the death of the sweetheart" is really that obvious in Elephant).

you would play and have fun by yourself and then you saw other children playing and you climbed your fence and went to play with them and it was fun.....

Essentially the Broken Bricks was once over that fence, and if you go on to read you can see that the album is primarily concerned with a death of innocence and an effortless attempt to recreate it. It adds more dimension to the band's aesthetic, instead of being simple recreations of childhood they are more biting reminders of what has been lost. The death of innocence seems like a cliched idea to revolve an album around but it comes across as fresh and is quite seperate from the rest of the band's catalogue. On later songs (i.e. We Are Going To Be Friends) Jack has moved on and is now mornfully celebrating this innocence instead of angrily protesting it's extinction. It fits in with the rest of the album, they are permantly on the offensive in these songs. It's all about the attack here.

In the song The Broken Bricks is a place where all childhood and adolescent milestones take place. First kisses, first punch and some bizzare things that don't exactly seem symbolic of innocence but nonetheless all revolve around a natural humanity. As the song progresses Jack starts to indicate it's decay and how it has succumbed to the mechanical age. Eventually we get the quite horific clincher: don't go to the broken bricks. All the humanity of the site has been robbed and it is now cast aside as the simple numerical value of Building C. No exactly a nice story. Once again those fat cats have screwed over the little guy and the big three claims another baby. It's these songs that form the most overt ties to Detroit, the city that suffered the short end of industrialisation. To this day Jack has never been one to embrace technological development (well barring The Vault) and essentially this song, this album and a large chunk of their output is centred around industry vs. humanity.

No lyrical interpretation is concrete so it's worth giving a second examination. It's also quite possible the Broken Bricks was never a place you would want to be and is itself a symbol of the bad guys in suits with machines. Whichever meaning you choose to except the over all theme holds true.

It's not often performed live* but Broken Bricks should always be remembered as an important track both musically and lyrically for the band. Even if you don't dig it personally it certainly is a quintessential representation of who they are and what they stand for.

*Having said that, here is an awesome and even more incomprehensible version from The Stripes'  05 Glastonbury set (it's after Cannon):


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