Wednesday, April 3, 2013

#24 Hello Operator

Hello Operator is to Rock 'n' Roll what You're Pretty Good Looking is to pop music. After opening the album with a newfound pop accessibility, Jack and Meg show how they can also reconfigure the few components they have to create a chunky rock swagger. It sounds kind of silly to say this now when we all see Jack White as the pre-eminent example of the modern-day rock god but you have to remember how many standard rock tropes the Detroit garage scene rejected. The first album was certainly loud and heavy but it lacked a key ingredient that is now so essential to Jack and his music: an irresistibly cool sense of confidence. There's an earnestness that pervades the bands early recordings, an extreme effort put into avoiding anything dishonest and superficial. It's at the heart of any offshoot of punk rock (garage revival being one of them) and The White Stripes, wacky colour scheme aside, obeyed this rule reasonably carefully early on.

To me this makes Hello Operator the White Stripes' 'original sin', the first signs that they would be come a universally compelling rock act. If you want to be dramatic, and you know you do, you could call this analogues to Dylan's 'going electric' moment. Of course it's not an extremely jarring shift, we're still a long way away from the extended solos and on-stage theatrics, but it's a big step nonetheless.

I think it's immediately noticeable that something has changed as soon as Jack starts singing, it stands out more than anything else on De Stijl. There's a real character being inhabited in this song, a playful sense of swagger in the way he spits out the verses. If you think about the bluesy sing-speaking he'd go on to master in Ball & Biscuit and I'm Shakin' you can see the origins of that forming here. I don't think this is a really conscious choice necessarily, it's just something that probably naturally progressed as the band played on and new songs were written. Of course we can probably guess that Jack's love for the blues is what's really driving this. There's always been a sexual, playful and escapist element to the blues that a lot of 'soulful' white boys overlook and perhaps this new performance style is a result of Jack acknowledging a point of conflict between his heroes and his contemporaries. Who knows? But there's definitely the beginning of something here.

It's also worth noting that we get one of the first proper White Stripes guitar solos here as the now familiar high-pitched staccato bursts cut through the power chords. It's an arresting beginning that shows another point of development for the band; compare the formality of it to the much looser riffing that begins Red Bowling Ball Ruth for instance. But of course this is all colouring in what is still firmly a standard White Stripes song. Meg robotically pounds out the rhythm while the brief bursts of power chords provide the only 'melody' to grab onto. And the break? Is it meant to be some kind of morse code allusion to the lyrical subject? I've always like to think it was the band providing a bit of a tongue and cheek answer to the question 'what does a Meg White drum solo sound like'?

Hello Operator may be on of the few early Stripes songs to make it onto the radars of non-fans, it's use in a recent Converse commercial come to mind. I think this is because it gives fair representation to their distinct early garage days while also possessing enough of that rockstar crossover appeal that would later make them famous.

One of the most telling moments of the song isn't actually on the album but hidden on an alternate mix that doesn't fade out. Gradually the two begin to speed up the outro until they just let rip and take it to an absurd extreme. It's almost like they want to break out from the limits they set for themselves, yet they can't quite yet. But they will eventually.

So obviously this blog has a stupidly drawn out time between posts and I won't make another promise I'll break but I will say this: I was being really slack about replying to people's comments and I think that's really poor form. So I hereby make a commitment to reply to comments from now on... assuming people still readd this thing.

6 comments:

  1. I'm still readin'. Good to see you're back and looking forward to what's next.

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  2. I'm just hoping to get through the songs at a reasonable pace now. Once things are running smoothly ill try and post extras.

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  4. Okay, so I don't know where to post this. You don't have any Raconteur specific posts so I hope you can forgive this random subject hijacking of your comments section. I'm not part of any of the fan sites/forums and you're the biggest III-verse expert I know of. I couldn't find your email address so I'm posting this here because I think you should see it if you havent already.

    I just stumbled onto this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f404pEfB43M

    - It was posted 2 days after Consolers of the Lonely was released.
    - It could be Jack White singing, albeit doing a quite uncharacteristic voice.
    - The band behind it, "Pickens County Bandits" doesn't have anything else on the web that I could find.
    - The lyrics so perfect fit into the Carolina Drama story, it can't possibly be unrelated in some way.
    - The YouTube account, called "LonelyConsoler" only ever posted one video, but did coment on a few Raconteurs covers with short encouregments.

    My somewhat lofty guess is that it's something Jack wrote and recorded sometime before he sat down with Brendan and worked out Carolina Drama. I remember seeing an interview where White said that song was one of the most involved to write and that he wrote it with Benson.

    I can say from my own personal experience writing songs and stories that quite often they start as something not all that great, and as the story, world, and characters develop it my head, the manner I originally went about telling the story is scrapped completely for a brand new approach.

    That's what this sounds like to me. Ask The Milkman is rather repetitive (as in, almost hard to listen to the whole thing) but has distinct similarities in structure to Caralina Drama. A strong lead melody (on a banjo vs. slide guitar) interspersed throughout, haunting breaks with male voice harmonies, no chorus, etc. It's a bit more bland but deffinately has similar qualities to Carolina Drama in terms of composition (and lyrical content, obviously).

    Anyone could have posted it to youtube, and I highly doubt it was Jack himself. And maybe it's just some random person who was inspired to write a song after hearing CotL for the first time but I like to think even the great Jack White goes through a similar process of as us mere humans. Starting with an idea, making it a reality, often falling short of the idea on the first go but eventually making something amazing.

    I'd love to hear your thoughts this little mystery, and every Jack White song, actually.


    -Wes
    spacepresident@icloud.com

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  5. Do you still do anything with this account? I hope you at east check it every now and then... Where can I find the alternate mix where they keep speeding up?

    Thanks!
    kristoefoe@yahoo.com

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  6. The drum solo is morse code. Not just meant to emulate it. It is actual morse.

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