Friday, June 24, 2005

Kat's Korner: White Stripes latest has the usual pastel boys trying to be "helpful"

White Stripes is the loud kid in class that either delights you or irritates the hell out of you.

For a lot of people devoted to the group (Jack and Meg White), it's beyond disbelief that anyone couldn't get behind them and just give it all up to the greatness of their music. Get Behind Me, Satan is, in fact, the name of the new album.

At a time when Focus on the Fool and Pat Robertson swallow face time on TV like a binge eater left alone in the house with Sara Lees in the freezer, it takes either crafty marketing to offer an alternative to the usual "I want to give it up to God, thank you, Jesus!" award show bits or else it takes just being unable to do it any other way.

People who love the White Stripes would argue in favor of the latter and note that the two aren't very good with publicity (even the we'-re-brother-and-sister spin blew up in their face when people discovered they were actually a divorced couple). I'd agree with that because when you listen to Meg's drumming, you quickly grasp she's doing it her way, the only way she knows.

She's breaking basic rules and, in the process, rounding the "White Stripe sound." A few e-mails came in saying "Jack should dump Meg, she's a lousy drummer!" That is the popular mantra of ill informed print critics. But before you swallow their nonsense, think about this: Do you really want a Jack White solo act?

I don't. Meg's talented. She's no Andrew Ridgely or John Oates who's apparently just along for the ride. She is an architect of the sound. Drop Meg from the "group" and Jack's own deficiencies become more obvious. Put the two of them together and you've got a solid rock act.

Like Maureen Tucker before her, Meg's anchoring the sound, framing the sound and an integral part of the sound. And the little boys grown big everywhere but in their minds (hopefully, it's just their minds that are tiny) are the same ones who freaked in high school when they learned that the drummer in the Velvet Underground was a woman and quickly needed reassurance that Ginger Baker was, indeed, a man.

I'm not dismissing Jack who is the sole writer on this album, the producer, the lead vocalist (Meg also adds vocals), the guitar player and, for many, the face of the group. But if the White Stripes sound is working, and it is, credit for that goes not just to Jack but to Meg as well.

Take "The Nurse." You strip away Meg's drumming and you're left with the fact that you've got nice guitar doodles during the break and a creepy chord progression. Not creepy enough to inspire (or even entertain) Marilyn Manson, but creepy none the less. Meg's drumming is what fleshes the song out and turns it into rock.

Maybe the boys grew up on too much Narada Michael Walden in the eighties and just can't appreciate a real drummer (as opposed to a drum machine)? Or maybe the boys are doing their usual b.s. of whose cock is bigger? In the Stones, they could debate whether it was Mick, Keith, Ron, etc. In White Stripes, there are just two and, naturally, Meg's not really equipped to compete, let alone win, that contest.

We've all heard the various jokes about the drummer in any band. Apparently when the drummer's a woman, the jokes stop for some critics and it's open season on working through all the Boy's Only Club House rules.

But before you sign up for Spanky's Woman Haters Club, make time to actually listen to what the sound is. A virtuoso jazz drummer is not going to work in this band. (Unless you're wanting Jack to front LA Express.) What works is someone who's breaking the rules. Sometimes it works ("Blue Orchid" being a strong example), sometimes it doesn't. For the record, the same applies to Jack's contributions.

It's loud, it's messy and you're never quite sure where the next track will take you. In a nutshell, it's rock music.

On a track like "My Doorbell" everything works perfectly. All the elements fall together and you're hearing music made by people, not by machines.

Maybe that frightens some? Or maybe it's the fact that you've got a woman who really muscles the drums for that big sound and it's not Sheila E. in a half-slip doing an R&B number? Ask the Wilson sisters (Ann and Nancy) or Stevie Nicks and they'll probably tell you that there's something very threatening to some guys when a woman wants to rock out.

"Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)" merely marks time until the drums kick in. Note to the boys, that's Meg on those drums.

The White Stripes sound is raw and messy. It's downright dangerous in a world of "beats" and "mixes."

So what's Get Behind Me, Satan like Kat?

It's like every seventies garage band in stained t-shirts pumping up the best damn music while the room drips sweat. There's not a polished, spit-shined moment here. It's raw, it's real. In an earlier time, we would have labeled it "organic" or "authentic." In these days of Disney Kids and the children of Destiny (mark the calenders on the latter), this is deviant.

So maybe these helpful boys screaming for Meg's head on a drum stick just forgot what real music sounds like? Nah, that's not it. They spend a fortune on their overpriced stereo systems -- don't ever adjust the sound unless you want to hear them screech and throw a tantrum -- and then suddenly it's all about what's coming out of this speaker and what's coming out of that speaker, which layer they can isolate and which they can't. That's why they hail Sting as a music genius when, while he's good solo, nothing he's done in years has approaced the work done with the Police. They're the ones pushing the revisionist history that Wings would be judged an amazing band if Paul's last one hadn't been so huge.

For the record, Wings was middle of the road. For the record, once Sting didn't have to butt heads with the other two, all the tension and drama left his music. It became pretty wall paper and was judged on different terms which is good for Sting because as rock it never made it. (As yet another pale imitation of Joni Mitchell, it's quite melodic.) To put it as plainly as possible, these boys are the Yokos.

Now Yoko Ono didn't break up the Beatles. But these boys are acting out their own perception of Yoko, they just can't grasp it.

A solid rock band isn't easy to come by these days. The White Stripes sizzle, burn and bake.

They are the real thing. "But couldn't Jack be a little more confessional?" they whine. They're the type of "critics" who get upset anytime Ryan Adams straps on the axe and goes to town. Though they'd never admit it, they're Madonna babies. They grew up on "Like a Virgin" and the lot and when they wanted to get "wild," they'd put on Huey Lewis and the News or maybe Power Station. The boys dreaming, creaming, for a Duran Duran comeback.

They didn't know how to judge real music in their formative years and they still don't. So they take one of the last authentic rock bands and work themselves into a lather and cream rinse over the fact that it's not polished and pristine. It's too messy and it's not easy to hear each individual part so they're in a panic. What's the point of spending half a year's salary at Circuit City or Best Buy if you can't hear each and every individual note?

They want to tear apart the White Stripes. Not to figure out how it works and then put it back together, just to tear it apart. And when, later on, a solo Jack White does a musical salute to, for instance, Tom Jones, they'll be right there saying, "This is where it's really at."

Why should you check out Get Behind Me, Satan? First reason, it has the establishment critics scared. Anything that frightens them as they scurry between Starbucks and Borders still has life left in it.

Play this one loud and be prepared to surrender to the splendid chaos. And wonder, when you get to track eleven, if possibly Jack had these "establishment critics" in mind when he wrote "As Ugly As I Am:"

Can you believe some things are not
Appealing and there's a spot
On the ceiling of my childhood bedroom
And can these dreams you can't imagine
Will never match the vision
That you had decided for me
You are to take away from me
Things that are mine and it's not your right
Out that you'd wouldn't expect to find out
Can it be that I don't want what you want?

It's only ugly if you're looking for pastels.