Rediscovering: The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells

It is highly surreal to see the pile down to a single album, after this one. Those have been sitting around Somnolescent HQ for almost a decade now, and I’m sure some over. All gone now. The gauntlet, the year-and-a-half long ride, is nearly complete. Let’s not stop now.

The White Stripes' White Blood Cells

Here’s the breakout album from everyone’s favorite garage rockers, the White Stripes, White Blood Cells.

My previous experience, if any

I’m not gonna explain who the White Stripes are. You know who they are. Admittedly, I am more of a Raconteurs person. I think the full band helps to round out such a simple sound, and Brendan Benson is the perfect vocal foil for Jack White’s bizarre nasal honk. I’ve been enjoying their stuff all throughout my teen years, but the White Stripes passed me by just because, outside of the singles, they never struck me as being terribly noteworthy? The kind of group known for doing something first (that being 2000s garage rock revival), as opposed to doing something the best of their peers. As such, White Blood Cells sat in the pile.

The history lesson

While this wasn’t their first release, this was the first album that really brought the White Stripes significant attention. Jack White wanted to de-emphasize the blues in their sound and go for a straight garage rock sound that, in his words, didn’t sound too good. The plan worked; paired with a brickfilm music video, “Fell in Love With a Girl” stays one of their best-known songs, and spoiler, it’s about the best thing on here.


Alright, let me explain the sound of this thing a little more. Jack and Meg White do manage to make a nice amount of racket for being just two people. Jack’s guitar tone can be pretty ragged, it can jangle, or it can crunch. The lack of bass does mean there’s not a ton of bottom end to the recording, but you don’t really notice it. The roughness of Meg’s drumming is overblown. She keeps time and plays steady beats. She usually washes on the cymbals or plays her toms, which means the drums are either always splashing or thundering. It works quite nicely.

Really, the songs on here can be divided into three categories: pop goodness, surprisingly sprawling garage music, and fucking around. When this album sticks to the former and sometimes the second one, it’s pretty good. It does not stick to the former.

Let’s talk the good stuff first. “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” is one of those surprisingly heady, sprawling tunes. The boulders of the chorus are broken up by these disjointed, messy, quieter verses that perfectly shows off how…interesting Jack’s voice can be, but in a good way. “Hotel Yorba”, on the other hand, is a tightly wound, upbeat acoustic tune that is the absolute polar opposite of “Dead Leaves”. Nice pacing trick there.

As I said, “Fell in Love With a Girl” is fucking awesome. This song is catchy, it’s energetic, it sticks with you, and it proves the power of only a handful of chords and a minute-and-a-half runtime. “Little Room” is literally little, only 50 seconds long, and amounts to a vignette, but man, I really like the sound of it. If I made a commercial, this might soundtrack that commercial. “The Union Forever” is actually kind of spooky, a rumination on Jack’s idea that no relationship is meant to last for too long. Kooky or not (and that’s nuttier than squirrel shit), the song’s a vibe. “Offend in Every Way” is another strong favorite of mine, with a really cool earworm riff to it.

It all leads up to “We’re Going to Be Friends”, a ridiculously out of place acoustic cut that’s simultaneously adorable and catchy and syrupy and kind of embarrassingly on the nose. A lot has been made about this song, the themes of childhood love, all the details of going back to school and learning numbers, letters, and how to read with a girl named Suzy Lee, the fact that it’s now a literal children’s book you can buy through Third Man Records, its appearance in the intro of Napoleon Dynamite, which may have been my first introduction to this band, come to think of it–I’ll just say it’s a good song, and one that should’ve closed the album out.

This album, unfortunately, sits right on the edge of me really liking half of it and finding the other half as unnoteworthy as I pegged them for. In some cases, it’s actually actively irritating. “I Think I Smell a Rat” is about 50% composed of its title lyric, and frankly, sounds improvised. “Aluminum” right after, being mostly stray noises, is salt in the wound. The actual closer of the album, “This Protector”, kinda reminds me of a Raconteurs demo, a sound they would’ve perfected on a cut like “You Don’t Understand Me” five or six years later, but here, it’s just unfinished.

I’m gonna say I’m not keeping it because I have plans for all the albums in the toss pile that I’ll explain when we get to the Rediscovering wrap-up later in the week. I think someone would appreciate the full album a lot more than I would, but there’s plenty of choice cuts to enjoy. Maybe with the help of an editor, this would be a keeper, but I’m still of the opinion they’re more noteworthy for being the first and having the best lore (their color scheme, Jack and Meg being lovers-turned-siblings-turned-estranged) than really having the best albums.

Are you keeping it?

No sir.

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