Friday, October 16, 2009

#14 Do

Where later albums would often shroud Jack's lyrical purpose in ambiguity, The White Stripes is a rare oppurtunity to see him emotionally naked. Of course Jack never really over-complicates his words but it seems when approaching his most personal songs he shelters himself in am more mysterious wordplay. For example we know The Union Forever is about Citizen Kane as we know Take Take Take is about a fan's encounter with Rita Hayworth but these songs see Jack as more of a distant raconteur (no pun intended) where as more soulful and emotional songs often contain the most opacity. You can see this in Truth Doesn't Make A Noise, Same Boy You've Always Known and most importantly the wondefully weird I Cut Like A Buffalo which Jack declares is his most honest songwriting. However in their first LP we get a better insight into Jack's feelings. You can see it in the raging Big Three Killed My Baby, where his anger is unrefined and most prominently you can see it Do. There are less moments of personal introspection here but one could assume that as a private person this is due to an inability to cover his rawer moments of emotion which makes those moments open to the audience, if rarer.

However, it would be unfair to classify Do as an unedited diatribe of feelings because it is competently and cleverly written. It's an important moment in the album because while verbal accomplishments are not missing from the LP, with Do you can here them clearly (see Broken Bricks) and considering it follows Cannon, Astro, Broken Bricks and When I Hear My Name it is a well placed calm after the storm. A tender and unique album highlight.

Do is a reasonably easy song to analyse because it breaks up it's content into three main points divided amongst the verses (it's almost essay like in structure). The first two verses deal with social awkwardness which is a theme that crops up all throughout Jack's body of work. From Offend In Every Way to A Martyr For My Love For You he will constantly take on the role of an uneasy, almost neurotic social outcast. This also stems back to Jack's favorite song, Son House's Grinnin' In Your Face which he describes as illuminating the social paranoia that he grew up with. However one of the interesting aspects of Jack's exploration of this is he never finalizes on what is more to blame, his own uneasiness or the society that nurture's it. But Do is still a very sad song. Pleasant chord structure's a side it really casts a pessimistic view of the world ramping up the reasonably trivial awkward interactions of the first verse to the complete severing of social ties in the second.
Contrast:
...I think that my words could get twisted
So I bend my back over
Take a gulp, be funny
Cause I know there's nothing I can do
With:
...My eyes are lying
And they don't have emotion
Don't wanna be social
Can't take it when they hate me
But I know there's nothing I can do
It seems that there is a learning curve of  pessimism and the same world that confused the narrator in verse one has grown in it's sinister nature over the course of the next verse but this isn't really the case. I think it's a fair assumption that this isn't so much Jack commenting on society but a more personal reflection on his troubles comprehending it. The narrator's trouble communicating crumbles into an antisocial outlook and we're just left with that refrain of "there's nothing I can do" so the issue seems more self-perpetuated than externally perpetrated.

In the mid-section we get a very interesting and unique  look inside the artist side of Jack but even that could be  a miss-statement.  Are the thoughts that Jack feels he can never own of an artistic nature, implying we can never create something original or is he talking in a much broader sense? This passage also acts as a good foreshadowing to the severing of Jack's ties with the Detroit garage scene. Those who unite under independent thought are bound by that same longing, so how can they be truly independent? None of these are right or wrong interpretations. The verse is purposefully vague but gives us substantial phrases to ponder and adds a whole lot of depth to the song.

And we end with something that reflects Jack's view of modern culture well. As a man who's heroes are long dead men from the twenties who left behind nothing but a handful of recordings and one or two photographs it's no surprise he has a distaste for the intrusion of the modern celebrity. Think of Robert Johnson, simply a very good guitarist who liked his women like he liked his drink, but the fact that we know so little about him elevates him to a near-mythic position and I agree with Jack that that is simply impossible today. 

It's a destruction of a mystery
The more I listen to what they say

The mystery is destroyed. So if one cannot take solace in the people around them, their own thoughts or the people they look up to then I guess there's nothing left to Do.....

Sunday, October 4, 2009

#13 When I Hear My Name

While I've tried to give each song I've written about an individual life of it's own, a trend is definitely establishing itself that, while great live bursts of energy, some of the songs actually fall down on their own. I want to stop saying this because it's making me appear a poor writer and not doing an album I love justice but before I retire this train of thought I have to say one last thing.

Nothing hammers this point home further than When I Hear My Name a song of extreme simplicity, even for The White Stripes, yet somehow one that has become a live standard. You would think, upon listening to this album take that it warrants little discussion but this little song's legacy and history really is the cause for much discussion.

Let's forego the debut for a minute and flash forward to the bands first and only live DVD Under Blackbool Lights. I'm sure every White Stripes fan can remember flipping on their TV's in anticipation as their favorite band entered their living room. We see the White Stripes walking and smoking, on their way to the venue as a crowd's anticipation increases in the background. The scene switches to the stage as Jack and Meg enter, devoid of fanfare and, without warning, smash (yes this is the right verb) their way into When I Hear My Name. It's such a thrilling and merciless performance that it becomes and unforgettable moment for the band. What makes this performance so amazing, and also the reason it is such a fantastic set opener, is that it makes the audience completely aware they have played full ticket admission to see two people bash out chords with the finesse of 13 year olds. The music is so simple it would barely pass for a quick soundcheck even to an extent that the White Stripes "official historian" Ben Blackwell sarcastically declares it the duo's most complex song. I won't lie, when I went to my first live offering of the Stripes I was hoping for the concert to blast open with Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground which, with it's cool riff and loud-soft dynamics, is a much more sensible opener. But that's the precise point placing When I Hear My Name at top spot it defies the expectations and destroys decades of the cliches and protocols of rock music which the White Stripes went against. In that sense it is a complete artistic triumph and could hold up as the bands mission statement......

....but.....

The true problem with When I Hear My Name, evocative of a flaw of the album as a whole, is that, while the song functions fantastically when Jack and Meg are hitting you with it before your eyes, it comes across rather dull on the record. Yes dull, which is probably the least appropriate word for this record and is completely unthinkable in comparison to live renditions. Unfortunately there is nothing to When I Hear My Name and while that's it's point, when translated to a recorded environment it's value is questionable. That's not to say I loathe the song, or even particularly dislike it but with an already packed track listing it's inclusion on the album seems slightly redundant. Of course the song has to be released, we all need to be able to song along to the opening song after all, but it still seems like the closest thing to filler material the band has ever produced.

Maybe that's the band's magic, to turn what seems like a throwaway track into a live standard but it also could be the reverse. It has been stated that Jack was afraid of the recording and desired a sound that made the listener believe no studio was involved, and in a way the fact the album succeeds this is what makes it a masterpiece. But the flaws of When I Hear My Name may illuminate why this sound was needed. 

And hopefully that will end my negative comments towards this great album and a beacon of positivity will shine through on future posts.