WHY: A couple months ago I was burning some of my CDs for my friend and ex-blogger Jason when we came to my White Stripes collection. "You don't have De Stijl? That's my favorite White Stripes album. It's much better than White Blood Cells."
I really love White Blood Cells, but then thought their next two records, Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan get progressively worse. Maybe the earlier stuff would stand out? I picked up the album a few month back but hadn't had a chance to listen to it. Until now...
1. You're Pretty Good-Looking (For a Girl) - Nostalgic, lo-fi garage romance. I like it, and wasn't expecting something, well, so sweet to come out as the first track. It's got a chord progression like the pop songs from the 60's.
2. Hello Operator - I am immediately bouncing before the singing starts. Then the drumsticks tap out a stupid beat on the rim and I'm almost ready to leave this track behind when it kicks back to 11 again. Rude, old-fashioned bluesy rock. If it wasn't for the stupid rim shots, this would rule over all the heavens and earth. As it is, it is merely great. Bonus points for the harmonica.
3. Little Bird - A Led Zeppelin riff straight outta Physical Graffiti. Holy crap, I keep waiting for Jack White to sing "I'm gonna love you till my dying day." And yet I'm not angry, but pleased as punch. This is so far my favorite track on the record.
4. Apple Blossom - A piano sweeps some arpeggios (major/relative minor, anyone?) into the usual drums/guitar mix, serving the song well. I also like Jack's unique voice up front in the mix. Short - I can already hear the song ending.
5. I'm Bound to Pack It Up - Acoustic. I keep thinking this is Led Zeppelin if Robert Plant and Jimmy Page stayed in their garage and never had any sex. It's all the sentiment, the influences and soul laid bare without the enormous swagger that accompanied Zep in whatever they did. I like this song a lot, and am ranking it right behind "Little Bird" for favorite track.
6. Death Letter - I can see why Jason loves this record. This is a nice blues number with an authentic feel and move to it. I more and more see all of this in relation to Zeppelin - this could be a demo album from them covering most of the musical stylings from the first six albums. But the biggest record influence I hear is definitely Physical Graffiti, especially with all the slide guitar.
7. Sister, Do You Know My Name? - A little more of the same, mixing a little of the pop sensibilities of the first track. I like short songs - one thing you see too much of mow is bands and performers trying to cram as much music onto a disc as possible, regardless whether or not the music all fits together, or is even of the same caliber. Remember buying tapes when each side was maybe 15-17 minutes of music? Every song mattered, every note punched you in the gut.
8. Truth Doesn't Make a Noise - Wow, nice title. More piano, and again it serves to break the monotony of the record a bit. Slow, sprawling like a western in feel if not in actual tone. Every note sounds drenched in sweat. I think this is a song that will grow on me over time. I think I am definitely at the point where I can say this album is much better than the last two. Still not convinced it's better than WBC yet.
9. A Boy's Best Friend - Blues. "I just don't fit in this place." This album is very different from WBC - there's a lot more breathing room here. Although the songs are short, they take their time to roll over you.
10. Let's Build a Home - The pace picks up a bit. The chords swing and lock in with the drums, and you got some rock n roll, baby! There's not much in the way of substance here, and I think that's the point.
11. Jumble, Jumble - Time warp. I get a sense of The Yardbirds here. This sounds like it was recorded in a cellar with Jack simply jamming away as his foot beats the bass pedal. Short!
12. Why Can't You Be Nicer to Me? - Good, but at this point I'm beginning to wind down a bit. This sounds like something that would come on their later albums. Was that an electric violin? Is Jean Luc Ponty here? I think this could have gone earlier in the track listing to break up the sound a bit. I think we passed the 3 minute mark on this song. I dig it.
13. Your Southern Can is Mine - Some more acoustic lovin' for you all. A little countrified bluesy-boogie, which I think also defines The Doobie Brothers. This ain't them, though. Sounds like it would the last thing on an album, coming a few seconds after the last "proper" song. Which I guess this is.
BOTTOM LINE: B+ I don't think it's better than White Blood Cells, but I don think it's a great record that seems to be a natural progenitor of White Blood Cells. Much better than their later stuff, and something I'll be playing a lot of in the future.