#22 Hand Springs
In a more generous age of the music industry the non-album single was a highly coveted product. Whether true or not, a common complaint about the modern pop album is that it consists of a hit single surrounded by filler. You could argue that once upon a time the reverse was true, for example She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand never appeared on a Beatles' record and you'd be forgiven for thinking that Jumping Jack Flash was on Beggar's Banquet. The classic stand-alone singles of rock history could have been placed comfortably within a classic LP but were instead given their own spotlight to showcase a certain sound in the most radio-friendly way possible.
This is far from the case when it comes to Hand Springs.
There is absolutely nowhere in The White Stripes discography where Hand Springs wouldn't be out of place. Every type of melodic, lyrical and tonal style that the band has adopted does in no way accommodate the mind bending absurdity that is Hand Springs. The context is nearly as weird and unlikely as the song itself. Jack and Meg recorded this song for a bowling magazine, backed by a Dirtbombs song. There is no universe where that sentence makes any sense. I didn't even no there were bowling magazines. And what the hell was one doing releasing a 7" garage rock single in 1999 anyway? Is there a crossover market I'm missing out on?
Jack White's love of truth and disdain for irony often makes us ignore the fact that he's actually got a tendency to be very funny and extremely sarcastic and Hand Springs is a tour de force of complete silliness. Although, to its credit, the weird love/bowling story is told with a complete straight face and even gets a little philosophical catchphrase at the end. Still, I think its a leap too far to take this song too seriously.
Musically, however, this track does jump into a new level of sophistication for the band that sort of shows up on De Stijl but doesn't really reemerge until Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump. For one thing, I think that there is an actual bass guitar on this track as opposed to the signature whammy/guitar combo that has become a trademark, so it's historic in one way at least. But even beyond that piece of trivia, Hand Springs gives a small piece of foreshadowing of how much further Jack was willing to stretch out within the little room he built for himself. The Sub-Pop single gives us another hint and by the time we hit Get Behind Me Satan the restriction have all but disappeared. The bass-line and spoken word breaks some new ground for the band in a very unassuming fashion. Of course its all broken up by a jaunty rock n roll riff that is almost as much fun as the narrative. Still, the experimental nature of the record seems to not be lost on Jack as seen in this recent(ish) performance where it is integrated into a freakish Seven Nation Army jam.
All that aside, this is a fun little piece of storytelling that shouldn't be over-thought, just enjoyed. Despite its simplicity, the early work of the band went to some dark places so this is a refreshing change. I had fun revisiting this little chestnut and I suggest you should all do the same.
Okay, now let me FUCKING GET TO DE STIJL!!!!!