new york times' kelefeh sanneh on the white stripes, get behind me satan and retro-rock

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The White Stripes Change Their Spots
The former king and queen of rock 'n' roll nostalgia.

By KELEFA SANNEH
Published: May 29, 2005
MAYBE it's time to retire the term "retro-rock." Not because it doesn't fit but because it fits too much too well - it's becoming redundant. These days, rock tends to be retro by default, whether on the pop charts or on MP3 blogs. The million-selling Las Vegas band the Killers became a mainstream sensation by reviving the sound of 1980's new wave, while the beloved Scottish cult band Bloc Party became an underground sensation by . . . well, by reviving a different strand of 1980's new wave. From Gap commercials (where you can find the 18-year-old Joss Stone belting out the half-century-old "Night Time Is the Right Time") to indie record shops, rock 'n' roll nostalgia is everywhere. A young listener might well wonder what other kind of rock 'n' roll there is, and an older one might find that a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

Only a few years ago, it was a mild shock to hear so many young bands sounding so old-fashioned. In 2001, when the Strokes released their galvanizing debut album, the garage-rock boom seemed like a sharp (and sometimes shrill) reaction to a mutating musical world. The Strokes' retro juggernaut was a strike against turntables and keyboards, rap-rock and electronica. And if the band sounded a bit like their favorite late-1970's punk forebears, that was part of the point: they were digging in their heels.

Of all the bands that emerged then, none dug in harder than the White Stripes, the Detroit duo that staked out a position on the extreme wing of retro. The guitarist Jack White and the drummer Meg White were rock 'n' roll refuseniks, determined to follow their own rigorous rules: no bass guitar, no clothes that weren't either red or white, no acknowledgment that they weren't really brother and sister. (As fans quickly discovered, they are a divorced couple.) Once the frantic garage-punk song "Fell in Love With a Girl" became a breakthrough hit, the White Stripes' image was set: they were rock 'n' roll's greatest primitivists, beloved (even, perhaps, by people who couldn't quite bring themselves to love the music) for their devotion to all things raw.

In 2003, the White Stripes left behind the Strokes and just about everyone else when they released "Elephant," a hit CD that even (or only) a Luddite could love. The liner notes promised that, "no computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing or mastering of this record." The album turned this boast into 50 minutes of shivering and yowling and stomping and wailing. As retro-rock reached its saturation point, with the garage-punk caricaturists Jet creeping past one million records sold, the White Stripes emerged as king and queen of rock 'n' roll nostalgia.

Or did they? On June 7, the White Stripes return with a thrilling new album, "Get Behind Me Satan" (Third Man/V2/BMG), that goes a long way toward dismantling the band's goofy mythology. It's an album so strong and so unexpected that it may change the way people hear all its predecessors. And that's just a start. Listen long enough, and this album might change the way you hear lots of other bands, too.

It was clear something strange was afoot when the White Stripes released "Blue Orchid," the album's first single, with a guitar so heavily processed that it almost sounds like a keyboard; it's as if the duo has made peace with its former enemy, the computer. (As is often the case, Meg White's steady drum beat and Jack White's yelped vocals are almost afterthoughts.) This band has always been committed to the sound and feel of vinyl records - the new album, like its predecessor, was made available to reviewers only as a two-LP set - and yet "Blue Orchid" was released straight to iTunes, two weeks after the band recorded it. A band that once wanted to move back in time now seemed eager to hurtle forward.

"Blue Orchid" is the first song on the new album, and it's followed by another surprise: "The Nurse," which begins with a marimba flourish that might once have sounded out of place within the spartan confines of a White Stripes album. His guitar and her drums make occasional, ear-splitting interventions, but the marimba and piano carry the song, while Jack White delivers quietly queasy lyrics about destructive devotion and murderous maids. "No I'm never, no I'm never, no I'm never gonna let you down, now," he sings, turning a murder mystery into a love story. There have been lots of albums about the transformative power of love, but few have been so suspicious of it as this one.

You can hear that suspicion lurking in the background of "Take, Take, Take," about an eager young man who bumps into Rita Hayworth, the movie star who died when Jack White was 11: "She walked into the bar with her long, red curly hair, and that was all that I needed," he announces, sounding every bit the gleeful young fan. He asks for an autograph and she goes one better, kissing a white piece of paper (even in this song, just about everything is red and white) and adding the coy inscription, "My heart is in my mouth."

But when she graciously excuses herself, the sweet encounter gets sour. The narrator gets indignant, yelping, "Well it's just not fair/I wanna get a piece of hair." And soon he's overtaken by self-pity: "She didn't even care that I was even there/What a horrible feeling." For the chorus, the music shifts sharply to an angular piano riff (in 11/4 time), and Jack White spits out the words, tugging petulantly against the rhythm: "Take, take, take/Take, take, take." This is the greedy mantra of a fan - or, if you like, of a nostalgic.

It's hard to hear the song without being reminded of Jack White's recent encounter with another heroine from an earlier era - although unlike his narrator, he got much more than an autograph. Last year, he teamed up with the transcendent country singer Loretta Lynn to release "Van Lear Rose" (Interscope), a country album that was by turns gorgeous and irritating. On the single "Portland, Oregon," his jagged guitar and half-hoarse vocal harmonies seemed to spur Ms. Lynn to giddy new heights - she sounded as if she were joy-riding in someone else's fast car. Elsewhere, though, Jack White's eager fandom seemed to overwhelm the graceful music, threatening to turn a complicated pop star into a backwoods caricature. When she reminisced about being poor and shoeless, you got the off-putting feeling that she was merely giving her young fan what he wanted. His heart was in her mouth.

Then again, doesn't nostalgia always work that way? Isn't it impossible to love a singer or a song or a style without changing it, sharpening the features to match your own preconceptions? You might think that retro-rock bands would water down the music they borrow from, but the opposite tends to be true: everything comes back more vivid. The Killers' vision of 1980's new wave is more single-minded than anything that jumbled-up decade produced, just as Bloc Party is even more devoted to jittery guitars and clipped bass lines than its post-punk forebears Gang of Four, who are currently packing in young fans on the alt-rock oldies circuit.

Cleverer and stranger than most of their contemporaries, Jack and Meg White are learning how to revel in nostalgia's mutations. "Get Behind Me Satan" is full of collisions and cracks, crashes and cutouts. The swaggering piano-rock song "My Doorbell" (with Jack White hollering, "I been thinkin' about the doorbell/When you gon' ring it, when you gon' ring it?") butts up against the plaintive power ballad "Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)," and the fluttering marimba only increases the garishness - this band is painstakingly recreating old genres as they never were.

The fact is that the White Stripes have never really been the rock 'n' roll preservationists they were often mistaken for. A critic writing in this newspaper (and, come to think of it, writing under this byline) once derided Jack White's "Led Zeppelin shriek," but this new album makes it easier to understand why a band would want to flaunt its influences so obviously. Unable to escape rock 'n' roll history, the White Stripes decided to rearrange it instead.

"Get Behind Me Satan" ends with yet another chapter in the continuing ballad of Meg and Jack. Over nothing but a few piano chords, Jack White sings a country ballad called, "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)," hinting at incest ("I love my sister, Lord knows how I've missed her"), but then stopping himself; the album's last words are, "Sometimes I get jealous of her little pets/I get lonely, but I ain't that lonely yet." On this album, where loving something means changing it, there's nothing more romantic than a demurral: if you want the woman you love to stay the same, you have to leave her alone.

But we can't help but hear the song differently: this is an album filled with characters (mainly men) who "take, take, take," so Jack White's vow sounds more like the sad promise of an incorrigible man trying (in vain) to convince himself that he never would, or that he never has. Lots of bands aim to change the future of rock 'n' roll; this one already has. Now the White Stripes are trying something trickier: they're trying to change the past.

ppp, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:35 (sixteen years ago) link

Hmmm.

The Killers' vision of 1980's new wave is more single-minded than anything that jumbled-up decade produced

I'm sorry, either he's not explaining himself too well or he's being a bit ridiculous, I don't know which.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:39 (sixteen years ago) link

maybe he means single-minded = more straightforwardly pop-song oriented? then again, there were plenty of great pop songs from new wave artists. perhaps he means horrid singing voice/stupid frontman names/bland yucky dry flat melodies = 'singleminded'.

ppp, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:41 (sixteen years ago) link

A critic writing in this newspaper (and, come to think of it, writing under this byline) once derided Jack White's "Led Zeppelin shriek," but this new album makes it easier to understand why a band would want to flaunt its influences so obviously. Unable to escape rock 'n' roll history, the White Stripes decided to rearrange it instead.

This is worse than the Jayson Blair scandal.

I mean, come on already. NO SHIT DUDE.

Keith C (kcraw916), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:42 (sixteen years ago) link

xpost: I think he means they're more reductive in imitating their influences that their influences were.

The Sensational Sulk (sexyDancer), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:42 (sixteen years ago) link

"singled minded" perhaps = "has a map to follow" = new wave at the time was maybe seen as a jumble of punk/bowie/eurodisco/powerpop/chic but now comfortably = "New Wave"

strng hlkngtn, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:43 (sixteen years ago) link

does no one else find it blatantly obvious that sanneh's softly softly i-am-talking-to-a-dummy-ok? approach might just constitute not actually knowing much or having much to say on the subject or what he writes about? does he actually have much of an opinion here?

yawner, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:46 (sixteen years ago) link

How terrible for something to be jumbled-up! We can't have that!

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:46 (sixteen years ago) link

"Once the frantic garage-punk song "Fell in Love With a Girl" became a breakthrough hit, the White Stripes' image was set: they were rock 'n' roll's greatest primitivists"

I like the new single, but please ...

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:47 (sixteen years ago) link

musicians must be anti-jumbling and stick doggedly to only one style and sound forever.

ppp, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:48 (sixteen years ago) link

Lots of bands aim to change the future of rock 'n' roll; this one already has. Now the White Stripes are trying something trickier: they're trying to change the past.

Please tell me an editor tacked that beauty on.

joseph cotten (joseph cotten), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:49 (sixteen years ago) link

jack white:marty mcfly

yawner, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:50 (sixteen years ago) link

xpost -I don't see how that statement can be seen as critical of the '80s (for being jumbled-up). It seemed fairly clear to me he was saying that the current purveyors of 'new wave' are just producing a rehashed, mediated and mediocre (in the sense that it clings to the middle ground) sound, where the original new wave era was all over the place stylistically.

milozauckerman (miloaukerman), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:51 (sixteen years ago) link

Oh, and:

YOUR 11 FAVORITE MISSPELLINGS OF KELEFA SANNEH'S NAME, FUCK

joseph cotten (joseph cotten), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:52 (sixteen years ago) link

Also: was the guitar sound on Blue Orchid actually electronically processed in the studio (the supposedly great shocka about this song) or did he get that sound out of his amp somehow?

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:53 (sixteen years ago) link

no idea. im sure it might just be a much cleaner tone, not one thats processed through protools or whatever.

studiowiz, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:54 (sixteen years ago) link

actually, i think the big fuss about it is that jack hasnt gone for a rusty, dirty, muffled sound, but a clean, brand spanking new one, not that hes been using computers or whatever (even if thats what it sounds like).

studiowiz, Friday, 3 June 2005 20:57 (sixteen years ago) link

Milo, I might agree with you if the preceding sentence wasn't:

You might think that retro-rock bands would water down the music they borrow from, but the opposite tends to be true: everything comes back more vivid

...which if anything sounds positive (but then again, is it?).

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 3 June 2005 20:57 (sixteen years ago) link

sounds like a pitchshifter pedal

The Sensational Sulk (sexyDancer), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:07 (sixteen years ago) link

New York Times should print a correction, then!

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:08 (sixteen years ago) link

Dude, that aside isn't the complicated. It's something like what Jess said: a band doing new-wave in 2005 can just do straight-ahead pop-focus distilled pastiche New Wave, and hit all its signature thrills in like three minutes; a band doing new-wave in 1983 didn't have such an easy blueprint to work from. The statement doesn't sound like a comparison of quality -- just a statement that there can be something kind of vivid and effortless-sounding about a band doing the former. That's about 60% of why the first Interpol record was any good, for instance.

nabisco (nabisco), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:11 (sixteen years ago) link

I.e. "single-minded" means "we're in a position to distill down to the essence of this genre and throw ourselves right into that," which, yeah, comes back pretty vivid -- just a lot harder to actually get anything out of apart from the show.

nabisco (nabisco), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:14 (sixteen years ago) link

octave pedal, maybe MXR bluebox, is what the speculation around the office is

noizem duke (noize duke), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:19 (sixteen years ago) link

It's obviously a pitchshifter. Just like 'Seven Nation Army'.

Sanneh is nowhere near as good at broadsheet populism as Petridish (which isn't saying much, I concede) and makes just as many factual errors. (Bloc Party Scottish? I sure hope someone got fired for that) Why is this site perpetually fascinated by such a mediocre writer?

snotty moore, Friday, 3 June 2005 21:22 (sixteen years ago) link

That's about 60% of why the first Interpol record was any good, for instance.

I think we've just spotted the flaw here. ;-)

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:24 (sixteen years ago) link

nabisco otm as usual

"snotty" maybe its because he's 1) not mediocre and 2) covering music that no one else is covering in the new york times in a comprehensive and intelligent way? Did you see how happy matt sonzala was with sanneh's houston rap scene piece?

deej., Friday, 3 June 2005 21:25 (sixteen years ago) link

single minded = cynically reproducingly only the 'cool' zeitgeisty parts of a decade they barely remember first hand.

Having less ideas than the people they rob from.

That was how I read it anyway.

fandango (fandango), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:26 (sixteen years ago) link

MAYBE it's time to retire the term "retro-rock." Not because it doesn't fit but because it fits too much too well - it's becoming redundant. These days, rock tends to be retro by default, whether on the pop charts or on MP3 blogs. The million-selling Las Vegas band the Killers became a mainstream sensation by reviving the sound of 1980's new wave, while the beloved Scottish cult band Bloc Party became an underground sensation by . . . well, by reviving a different strand of 1980's new wave. From Gap commercials (where you can find the 18-year-old Joss Stone belting out the half-century-old "Night Time Is the Right Time") to indie record shops, rock 'n' roll nostalgia is everywhere. A young listener might well wonder what other kind of rock 'n' roll there is, and an older one might find that a surprisingly difficult question to answer.

Ignores rock that doesn't scan between a gap ad and the indie shop, more to life than what's on Pazz'n'jop, standard grumble grumble

miccio (miccio), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:28 (sixteen years ago) link

Did Duran Duran and Culture Club and Thompson Twins have a whole lot of good ideas?

x-post

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:29 (sixteen years ago) link

miccio what examples do you mean?
fandango i dont see anything in his piece to suggest that they have "less ideas than the people they rob from."

deej., Friday, 3 June 2005 21:30 (sixteen years ago) link

The Killers sure as fuck have less good idea than The White Stripes!

I scanned this really quickly. Apologies. I'm not sure I agree with "You might think that retro-rock bands would water down the music they borrow from, but the opposite tends to be true: everything comes back more vivid." at all fwiw.

fandango (fandango), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:35 (sixteen years ago) link

that said the rest of the review really makes me want to hear the album, esp. "take, take, take."

x-post there's a lot of bands don't make pazz'n'jop but play rock that depending on your sympathy, you may or may not consider retro. He's right to note the retro tendencies popular today (though it's pretty easy to make a case that every band synthesizes their influences) but if he's going to accuse 'rock' in general of it I'd wish he'd acknowledge more of rock.

miccio (miccio), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:35 (sixteen years ago) link

frankly I think there's just a lot of muddy overgeneralization before getting to his true topic: he really likes Get Behind Me Satan.

and ok um, Bloc Party is even more devoted to jittery guitars and clipped bass lines than its post-punk forebears Gang of Four, who are currently packing in young fans on the alt-rock oldies circuit. Devotion?

I'm really sympathetic to his point that retro != unoriginal, but I wish he did a better job of pointing out what makes these groups unique rather than weirdly implying they're better.

miccio (miccio), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:40 (sixteen years ago) link

i don't agree with a lot of the piece, but i don't have the energy to argue about it. especially if matos pops up to tell me how wrong i am. cuz he's my devil's advocating cuz! mostly, i just can't stand reading stuff about the stripes cuz it makes people streeeeeeeeeeetch so much. but not in a good way. i mean, it's not like i blame people. they are a big fat juicy target for all kinds of sophistry.

scott seward (scott seward), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:43 (sixteen years ago) link

Anthony's right there with his last comment in particular. I'm actually perfectly in sympathy with the distillation argument, but not in the way that Sennah has tried to express it. It may have been an aside, Nabisco, but as I noted, he handled it more poorly than one might hope.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:46 (sixteen years ago) link

"Only a few years ago, it was a mild shock to hear so many young bands sounding so old-fashioned."

this isn't even true. oh, i could go on and on... (well, maybe it was a mild shock to him, but i don't see how. he probably hears more music than i do. or maybe he missed the 10 years of brian wilson worship and blooze explosionisms. or even the 80's soundz that have been pumping for almost a decade now.)

scott seward (scott seward), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:53 (sixteen years ago) link

this isn't even true.

Yeah, it's incredibly lazy. The fact that the Strokes are pegged as the revival point shows how effectively they were able to build their own myth *and* how rapidly it was fallen for. I'm not saying that the myth can't exist or doesn't have a purpose -- or even that it's not entertaining, it is. But stating something like this by rote -- I'm sorry, but I so don't buy it.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:57 (sixteen years ago) link

You know who I just realized is getting robbed in this new wave to nu-wave deal? Orgy.

miccio (miccio), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:58 (sixteen years ago) link

Basically, what Scott Seward said. I nearly started a thread on this when it was published, but figured someone else would because the hyperbole in the copy is so damn thick. KS may not be mediocre but this piece is. I do give him credit for is his unbridled enthusiasm in the record, which seems to have somehow slipped by the editor at the NYT.

don weiner (don weiner), Friday, 3 June 2005 21:58 (sixteen years ago) link

ok, who was leading the way for retro-revivalism before the strokes? or did they merely hit the big time while their retro predecessors languished in obscurity. cos the strokes have been really influential, they have set a lot of the tone for a lot of what has happened since and their sound has been copied more than a fair bit since then too.

"Why is this site perpetually fascinated by such a mediocre writer?"

no idea. dont think hes terrible, i just have a hard time figuring out if he ever has anything he really wants to say, or if hes really saying anything that exciting at all. it all just seems desperately middlebrow, inoffensive, mild and MOR.

or "maybe its because he's 2) covering music that no one else is covering in the new york times in a comprehensive and intelligent way? Did you see how happy matt sonzala was with sanneh's houston rap scene piece?"

well scene-people/specialists usually love it when their scene or local artists or whatever get bigged up in a large newspaper, even if the coverage isnt that great or special. its like 'oh cool such and such big paper is covering it! thats coverage for the scene! thats great!' or theyre just so overcome that some bigwig is doing something on it, their pants get wet and they dont care about anything else (except drying their pants).

studiowiz, Friday, 3 June 2005 22:37 (sixteen years ago) link

while the strokes were influential in bringing back one type of fashioned, new wave isn't the only retro one can revive in rock.

miccio (miccio), Friday, 3 June 2005 22:42 (sixteen years ago) link

Being English I don't read the NYT regularly, so the only time I've read Sanneh is through links on here, and I'm genuinely puzzled by the adulation. Mediocre might be an overstatement, but he seems to struggle with the necessary simplifications involved when writing for a general audience. This isn't much fun to read. (Check that horrible clincher). As a review it's adequate, though personally I suspect he's made the music fit his own theory. As newspaper journalism it's flair-free filler, nothing more.
Does this reflect US newspapers, all of them aiming for the same middle of the road audience and with no competition in the European sense? Is this really as good as they get? Is the NYT so dull this stands out? There's a surprising depth of music covered in UK papers, even the tawdriest tabloids. (And though they might be trashy, they certainly aren't boring).
I'm genuinely curious.

'My Doorbell' doesn't half sound like 'Let's Go Dancing (Ooh Reggae Dancing)' by Kool and the Gang.

snotty moore, Friday, 3 June 2005 22:48 (sixteen years ago) link

"ok, who was leading the way for retro-revivalism before the strokes?"

If the Strokes are seen as being more in the garage rock vein (as opposed to the nu wave vein), then the trend dates back to the late seventies w/ bands like DMZ and such. There was the whole paisley underground thing concurrent w/ tons of garage rock revivalism in the '80s. Genre never really died, but started kicking again quite a bit in early '90s w/ Gories, Mummies, Cheater Slicks, Night Kings, Supercharger, etc.

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Friday, 3 June 2005 23:13 (sixteen years ago) link

i.e., it's been a constant since the late seventies

Tim Ellison (Tim Ellison), Friday, 3 June 2005 23:13 (sixteen years ago) link

Moan moan moan. I like Kelefa, and a few generalizations aside I think it's a pretty good piece. Not one of his best or anything, but it mostly does what I'd like a White Stripes review to do, provides a little context, offers some maybe-useful/maybe-not thoughts about their significance, etc. etc. I mean, he's at least advancing some actual critical ideas, even if they're not ones that everyone's going to embrace. And yeah, he's writing for a general audience, so yes, he's going to keep it on explanatory side. You're expecting Dave Q. in The New York Times? I mean, I enjoy Dave Q., but I'm guessing that only a tiny fraction of the people who even bother to start reading his reviews have any idea what he's talking about. That makes it fun for aficionados, but close to useless for even a well-educated general audience.

I guess part of it is just having someone at someplace like the NYT who's at least listening to and aware of a broad range of music. I'm less hung up on his value as a stylist than as a sort of populist critic in the Roger Ebert mode who can make potentially obscure things seem accessible -- and who has pretty good taste, too.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Friday, 3 June 2005 23:20 (sixteen years ago) link

even in the '90s, on an mtv level of puopularity, you had bands like, oh, urge overkill. and the dandy warhols. but yeah, if i had time and energy, i could list a couple hundred bands in the decade before the strokes who were drawing on new wave or '60s garage rock in some way or other. in fact, i'm kinda shocked that anybody would believe that the strokes (who i like okay) had an original idea about that at all!

i'd love to see some of this brit daily paper writing that's so much better than sanneh's times stuff (which is generally way, way better than this white stripes review by the way.) i'm not being sarcastic, though i guess i'm being skeptical. i never had any idea that the brit press had much to say about music at all in this day and age. i sure haven't seen it do so, but i'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

xp

xhuxk, Friday, 3 June 2005 23:23 (sixteen years ago) link

I just like K cuz he's a sexy dude
http://www.eyejammie.com/workit/ks.jpg

The Sensational Sulk (sexyDancer), Friday, 3 June 2005 23:38 (sixteen years ago) link

(and actually, come to tink of it, i'm not sure that i understand how the strokes -- who never struck me as particularly '60s-garage in the first place -- are any more "retro-rock" than, say, weezer or everclear or buckcherry or local h or the black crowes or oasis were. the strokes' sound is closer to most of those bands than to, say, the sonics or music machine or 13th floor elevators or whoever.)

xp

xhuxk, Friday, 3 June 2005 23:43 (sixteen years ago) link

cuz the production sound is el cheapo???

The Sensational Sulk (sexyDancer), Friday, 3 June 2005 23:45 (sixteen years ago) link

Octave pedal on "Blue Orchid".

Brooker Buckingham (Brooker B), Friday, 3 June 2005 23:51 (sixteen years ago) link

I really like Keith Harris's piece for the Voice. You could argue he makes an even better case for why 'the masses' should care about the album: Jack White dated Renee Zellwegger!

miccio (miccio), Saturday, 4 June 2005 14:36 (sixteen years ago) link

"You'd prefer your groom decked out like a Hasidic Johnny Depp piloting the TARDIS to 19th-century Spain?"

hahahaha! i heart keith harris. he's been writing such great stuff for da voice.

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 4 June 2005 15:07 (sixteen years ago) link

okay, the whole first paragraph needs to be recognized:

"Well, shit—who wouldn't marry Kenny Chesney instead? A laid-back little fella, he'll wash if you dry, sniffle proudly at your daughter's graduation, whisk you off to Tim and Faith's beach house for the weekend. Sure, one Amstel Light too many can instigate a 4 a.m. Billy Joel sing-along with his Lambda Chi bros, but at least he won't sulk Saturday night away in the attic alphabetizing Blind Blake wax cylinders by gas lamp. And any juniorette Joan Rivers who refuses to condone a Stetson at the altar should check Jack White's latest promo glossies. You'd prefer your groom decked out like a Hasidic Johnny Depp piloting the TARDIS to 19th-century Spain?"

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 4 June 2005 15:09 (sixteen years ago) link

(btw, i'm currently at work where someone is playing this so I'm actually hearing it for the 1st time -- it sounds good. it also sounds more or less like every other WS record, but I guess it's hard to fill up column inches just saying that.)

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Saturday, 4 June 2005 15:57 (sixteen years ago) link

I read it a few more times, and I see where some of the assumptions he makes are quite shallow.

I guess I don't have a problem about what he's saying about the new album, but the pretext and historical perspective is pretty wacked.

Brooker Buckingham (Brooker B), Saturday, 4 June 2005 16:50 (sixteen years ago) link

ILM: We do close reading of pop music reviews so you don't have to.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Saturday, 4 June 2005 17:04 (sixteen years ago) link

gypsy mothra to ILM: stop thinking

miccio (miccio), Saturday, 4 June 2005 17:12 (sixteen years ago) link

"What distinguished this band from other retro outfits is that the Duo Jets were not really retro at all. While their music was certainly inspired by the rock-n-roll of the 1950's, one got the feeling that nothing was calculated. There was no marketing ploy on anyone's part to capitalize on a trend or movement at the time. Dex and Crow brought the music to life with such vitality and passion that the styles did not seem antiquated in their hands. This was the genuine article. This music was alive and well."

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 4 June 2005 17:24 (sixteen years ago) link

am i the only person who thought the white stripes were 80's-retro when they first heard them? probably. i'm wrong like that a lot. i just thought they were big gun club & pixies fans.

scott seward (scott seward), Saturday, 4 June 2005 17:26 (sixteen years ago) link

this piece reads like k.s. was bored, or is slumming, or both. it's not execrable, but there's not an idea worth pondering in it. i really like k.s.'s stuff in general.

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Saturday, 4 June 2005 17:45 (sixteen years ago) link

My initial thought was that they were combining the Violent Femmes with Led Zep so I guess '80s was in play.

miccio (miccio), Saturday, 4 June 2005 17:46 (sixteen years ago) link

gypsy mothra to ILM: stop thinking

Not at all! I do it too. It's no more absurd than any number of other ways of spending time. The absurdity is part of what I enjoy.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Saturday, 4 June 2005 18:05 (sixteen years ago) link

not the same. how on earth do goldie, aphex twin, matmos, or junior boys or any of those guys sound like kraftwerk, eno or whoever? thats just lazy. theyre all electronic, but matmos doesnt sound like kraftwerk or whoever does he?

I was thinking more of certain scenes that tried to slavishly imitiate acid house or detroit techno. Or west coast '90s rap songs that used Parliament loops. Sure, it's incredibly lazy to call that stuff retro which was my whole point. It's equally lazy to dismiss the Strokes or White Stripes as being retro. The term retro is mildly descriptive at best but it doesn't work as a criticism.

For example, I think Lenny Kravitz sucks but not simply because he's retro. It would be hypocritical of my to criticize him in those terms since I love for example Stereolab who is even more ridiculously retro.

As a criticism, the term retro is just a lazy shorthand that stands in for the old biases for originality and authenticity. It's a way to criticize music you don't like by implying that it's not doing anything innovative or that the artists and fans are merely playing with a nostalgiac pose. But my point is that these standards are not applied consistently. Another artist with an equally retrograde sensibility will be given a pass if the critic likes his music.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Saturday, 4 June 2005 19:18 (sixteen years ago) link

So my beef with the article in question would be that he approaches the concept of retro automatically assuming that it's something negative to move beyond. I agree with some of the conclusions that he reaches (the term retro-rock is useless, some of these "retro" bands actually do create something new, etc.). But I'm not sure if the language he uses is calculated to speak to the people who hold these biases and change their minds or if it shows that he actually buys into the biases himself.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Saturday, 4 June 2005 19:24 (sixteen years ago) link

walter yr reaching.

Adding rapping to p-funk tracks (as well as turning them into, you know, three minute pop songs) is a huge difference. Obviously its all relative but I think its entirely reasonable to use the words "retro" in some situations.

I dont think he uses "retro" as a pejorative at all! You're reading a lot more into what he's saying than he actually wrote.

(I dont think its ks's best article by far - he's much more at home with hip-hop, pop, etc....i didnt like his slint piece much either - but I think he made some good points, even if he also made some rather broad generalizations)

deej., Saturday, 4 June 2005 19:26 (sixteen years ago) link

Adding rapping to p-funk tracks !

walter kranz (walterkranz), Saturday, 4 June 2005 19:40 (sixteen years ago) link

also, not that k.s.'s arguments are anything resembling foolproof, but i don't think coming up with retro-styled bands pre-strokes is actually the best way to take them down. if you're talking about bands with nationwide, not-just-college-radio-type exposure, then the strokes really did inaugurate (sp?) a new trend of selfconscious retro-ism. even if i think that their retro-ness is a lot more canny and sophisticated than a lot of ilm'ers give them credit for.

i mean, the search for antecedents is one of the favorite forms of critical one-upmanship but it could go on forever and in this case i think sort of misses the point.

Amateur(ist) (Amateur(ist)), Saturday, 4 June 2005 19:47 (sixteen years ago) link

sanneh isnt that hot with rock writing, lets be honest. its like he was struggling to find something to say.

titchyschneider (titchyschneider), Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:02 (sixteen years ago) link

Amst, nobody has denied that the Strokes 2001 weren't in retrospect rather influential! Neither did they emerge full blown like Athena from the head of Zeus, though.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:11 (sixteen years ago) link

they emerged from the loins of television, VU, stooges and blondie! hoho

titchyschneider (titchyschneider), Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:14 (sixteen years ago) link

walter you're being silly - there's a world of difference between taking cues from music from the past (which, yes, dance music and hip hop do as a matter of course, like pretty much everything else ever) and explicitly setting yourself up as the resumption of the entire m.o. of that music. I can't vouch that that is what White Stripes do (haven't heard enough of them or the bands they swipe from to be certain) but in terms of concepts these things are easily distinguishable.

Re Amateurist's point: perhaps the article is understandably focused on the US, but if we're talking about bands/movements with "nationwide, not-just-college-radio-type exposure" based around "selfconscious retro-ism" then surely the model for this is Britpop??

But yeah, The Strokes are part of a different "movement"...

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:37 (sixteen years ago) link

>if you're talking about bands with nationwide, not-just-college-radio-type exposure, then the strokes really did inaugurate (sp?) a new trend of selfconscious retro-ism<

well, all of the bands I listed above had nationwide, not-jus-college-radio type exposure, actually. and i'm still not sure anybody has explained what the strokes are retro *to* -- they don't sound like a '60s garage band, they don't sound like the velvet underground, they don't sound like television, they don't sound like the cars; basically, the one band they really sound like is, um, the strokes. and yes, they do *draw* on those influences, but not more than, say, black crowes/urge overkill/local h/everclear/weezer/buck cherry/oasis/etc drew on allman brothers/bad company/elvis costello/cars/ac-dc/t. rex/beatles/etc. which is to say, if the strokes are "retro," i still really don't understand how those (quite popular) '90s bands were *not* retro. unless you're just talking clothes and haircuts (though, as i recall, urge overkill and the dandy warhols kinda dressed in period garb, and so did the black crowes, though obviously the perioid was different). strokes do what rock bands pretty much *always* do -- they recombine influences that have already existed. (which is also what hip-hop acts sampling old funk records under '70s-style soul vocals and daft punk mimicking eurodisco and kenny chesney shuffling mellencamp/petty/buffet and the killers mixing up duran/gang of four/"queen bittch" etc. do, obviously. i'm not sure i see a difference - they're all retro, or they're all not.) and though i really don't want to dissect kelefah''s piece--it' really doesn't bother me all that much, and he can be a great writer in ways unheard of among daily paper critics--i do think his main point here is to put forward the idea that white stripes suddenly came up with this idea that you can recombine different parts of old sounds into a new sound. and my quesion is: who *doesn''t* do that? so yeah, as he says. maybe it IS time to retire the term 'retro-rock'" (assuming anybody actually uses that term in the first place -- isn't it sort of a straw man? though maybe i just talk to and read different people than k does). but it''s not time to retire it because of the new white stripes LP (which, as somebody above said, sounds good, and pretty much the same as their other albums, on which they recombined old influences as well; i'm glad kelefah loves it, but they never sounded particularly purist to me) it's time to retire the phrase because it really never meant all that much in the first place!

xp

xhuxk, Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:42 (sixteen years ago) link

I guess the other thiing I want to say is that the Stokes have never really been all that *big*, I have they? I might be wrong, but the Killers and Jet (say) have sure seemed way more ubiquitous to me over the past few years. how many records have the strokes even sold? do they even really get played on (even) modern rock radio much? if so, I haven't noticed. (i don't listen to modern rock radio much, but i do check out the chart in billboard regularly). so it's hard to think of them "starting a movement" (which i'm not even sure kelefah claims they did; though lots of people on this thread do) when they've never been all that huge a band. i have a feeling this "movement" (assuming it really exists; i'm still pretty skeptical) would have started just fine thanks without their help.

xhuxk, Sunday, 5 June 2005 13:56 (sixteen years ago) link

the Killers have had the biggest single of all those bands and Jet have had more hits total.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:00 (sixteen years ago) link

I honestly don't think I've heard anyone outside this board even talk about the Strokes once in two years -- and this includes when Room on Fire came out! But you can damn well bet I see the Interpol/Killers/Bloc Party shirts around, hear them talked about, know that they're getting lots of airplay and attention etc. But this is why I called them the "John the Baptist" of the whole thing on another thread, in that they made certain inroads but then found themselves outstripped heartily -- I'd be willing to bet, Chuck, more than a few bands (and associated Svengalis and label people and etc.) saw them as a potential flashpoint once they got to where they did.

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:00 (sixteen years ago) link

I mean, Green Day (who are WAY bigger than the Stokes, and have been for years) are sort of a retro band, too, right? And they sound (or sounded, at first) at least as much like the Buzzcocks as the Strokes sound like Television! (I'm really not trying to be contrarian, either; this stuff just seems *obvious* to me.)

xp

xhuxk, Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:03 (sixteen years ago) link

But yeah, I do see Ned's point: I can see how the Strokes' success, as comparatively meager as it was (are they considered a flop by now? sure seems possible), did probably inspire a&r types to sign bands with, um, similar hair. So sure, if that's all the "movement" means, I can't argue with it...

xhuxk, Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:08 (sixteen years ago) link

just checked billboard/allmusic for verity's sake: the Strokes have made one song "Last Nite" in the modern rock top 10, 3 more in the top 20. Jet has three modern rock top 5s and another top 20, two of those modern rock hits making the pop top 40 as well as hitting the mainstream rock and adult top 40 charts. The Killers have had two modern rock top 5s (and their next single seems a lock), as well as a bonafide pop HIT with "Mr. Brightside." I think Ned's OTM re: John The Baptist. They were more an initial hype (and yes, they sound like THIS but they were HYPED like that) than an initial smash.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:08 (sixteen years ago) link

At Miami's "hip" "alternative" bar last night I counted at least 10 people with Killers tees. The Killers, Bloc Party, the new Coldplay were all played. The Strokes, ubiquitous in 2001 thru 2003, have vanished from the playlist.

Alfred Soto (Alfred Soto), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:16 (sixteen years ago) link

if the hype was more effective maybe we'd at least be seeing some SINK THE STROKES shirts.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:21 (sixteen years ago) link

I almost feel bad for the Strokes. I still think they had a unique sound and some great tracks, shame the sleepy guy who writes the hooks also wants to sing lead.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:23 (sixteen years ago) link

I was thinking about that just now as I showered -- Casablancas is nowhere near as memorable/presence-laden a singer as (say) Jack White or even Brandon Flowers, and it really sinks the band. The legendary "A Stroke of Genius" mashup makes it even clearer!

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:27 (sixteen years ago) link

Yet the turn in the band's fortunes is not entirely their fault. So they released a second album that sounds a lot like their first - so what? The problem is they're paying their marketers and PR men more than they're paying for a producer who'll get Julian to stop singing thru the fuckin filter already. These guys really need Mutt Lange.(what's Roy Thomas Baker up to these days?)

Alfred Soto (Alfred Soto), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:31 (sixteen years ago) link

Bush had a similar problem but at least their constipated hookwriter had a tighter ass.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:32 (sixteen years ago) link

Roy Thomas Baker is currently producing the Darkness because they couldn't get Mutt Lange, actually.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:33 (sixteen years ago) link

if they had mutt lange behind them, they might get their nevermind. their new producer isnt gordon raphael though, i think hes worked with 'big' acts so they might get their pop crossover this time. id rather listen to casablancas than flowers though.

titchyschneider (titchyschneider), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:36 (sixteen years ago) link

I'm not sure how I feel about pondering the Strokes in the shower, but Ned's otm about Casablancas.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Sunday, 5 June 2005 14:56 (sixteen years ago) link

> if we're talking about bands/movements with "nationwide, not-just-college-radio-type exposure" based around "selfconscious retro-ism" then surely the model for this is Britpop?? <

not sure i agree with this (there are *lots* of models for this kinda {bowel} movement), but i think it's an interesting thought, since didn't the strokes actually hit first (and perhaps bigger) in england? they definitely seemed to be on tour there a lot, when they just had EPs out. (in fact, i think their first EP may have showed up on american shores as a UK import.) and the same thing has happened with some american post-strokes new-new-wave hypes since -- definitely the bravery and the scissors sisters (if they count); not sure who else.(do interpol have brit hits? in the states, near as i can tell, they've never gotten much beyond college radio, though anthony can check the charts and correct me i'm wrong.) so maybe the reason i don' t notice the movement as much as some other people here is that i don't read the british music papers, who may well have invented the movement in the first place...

xhuxk, Sunday, 5 June 2005 15:01 (sixteen years ago) link

Interpol have done pretty damn well for a band on Matador (maybe even better than Liz Phair did back in the day!), but yeah in a mainstream sense they remain minor. They're kind of where REM was in '84, at the forefront of a collegiate subculture.

miccio (miccio), Sunday, 5 June 2005 15:07 (sixteen years ago) link

The White Stripes broke through first in the U.K too, didn't they? Not to mention (yes, let's not) Kings of Leon.

gypsy mothra (gypsy mothra), Sunday, 5 June 2005 15:12 (sixteen years ago) link

Interpol, if we continue miccio's REM analogy, are where REM were around Reconstruction-Life's Rich Pageant: top 20 placing, moderate mainstream and MTV airplay, magazine covers, etc.

Alfred Soto (Alfred Soto), Sunday, 5 June 2005 15:41 (sixteen years ago) link

The NME were definitely going "OMG STROKES!" in early 2001, FWIW. I also think that's where some of the 'best real rock band since Oasis' stuff began (no, really, things like that were said).

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 5 June 2005 16:48 (sixteen years ago) link

REM were a "retro" band too right? All Byrds-y jangle pop in the midst of synthesizers, metal & hip-hop.

walter kranz (walterkranz), Sunday, 5 June 2005 17:08 (sixteen years ago) link

Are you describing 1984 or 2005?

Ned Raggett (Ned), Sunday, 5 June 2005 17:49 (sixteen years ago) link

Chuck Eddy OTM about Green Dayze.

Cool Hand Luuke (ex machina), Sunday, 5 June 2005 18:01 (sixteen years ago) link

Get thee behind me, New York Times!

The LA Sunday Times today turned the subject of this thread into a grease spot with a story so big, the pictures alone take up more space than the column inches of Sanneh. The photos, of which there are four of Jack and Meg White, are all bigger than your head! Get the print version, cut them out and use them as masks!

Robert Hilburn travelled to Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, strike that, Detroit, MI, to interview Jack and a silent Meg White.

Excerpts, you'll swoon:

..."Get Behind Me Floyd" is a daring creative advance..."

"The White Stripes' Jack White is ready for a break as he slips behind the wheel of his vintage four-seat..."

"A new sound of independence..." (in 50-point pika, or whatever the designation is for lettering that's really big)

"The fifth album proves they've earned their stripes..."

"...the recording sessions left even the normally workaholic White drained..."

"Everything about Jack White's car, from the upholstery to the tinny radio -- is original - except for the supercharged engine features that make the car roar loud as a jet..."

"White makes his way back to the living room and sits in a chair by a picture of Rita Hayworth..."

"She was a metaphor for everything I could think of...the red hair, the innocence, the fact that she lost her memory to Alzheimer's..."

"I hate the celebrity stuff," [said White]. It trivializes everything..."

"Meg's so shy it's probably a relief Jack does all the talking..."

"Whatever his musical path, White is unlikely to temper his musical vision..."

http://www.latimes.com -- ya can't miss it. Subscription site, use
Bugmenot.

Harry Klam, Sunday, 5 June 2005 18:15 (sixteen years ago) link

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph...

I'll give 'em a pass on the car though: could be a Detroit thing (search, Woodward Dream Cruise)

http://www.woodwarddreamcruise.com/Photos.html

rogermexico (rogermexico), Sunday, 5 June 2005 18:26 (sixteen years ago) link

No, Jack, Meg and [Hilburn or Sanneh]...

Harry Klam, Sunday, 5 June 2005 18:59 (sixteen years ago) link

I think that, maybe since Suede but definitely since Britpop, the UK Press has had a devoted hype machine focused around the idea of resurrecting older variants of rock. The period between Oasis and The Strokes was a period of failed attempts - remember that quasi glam revival with bands like Ultrasound and Gay Dad.

I suspect that from a UK Press perspective, The Strokes weren't really a reaction against non-rock (though there were still a lot of "Rock is back!" taglines) so much as a reaction to not-so-rock rock that had had a lot of currency at that point in time - on the one hand US pansy-psych-pop like latter-day The Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, and on the other hand the mournful MoR of Coldplay and Travis. The battlefield as such is more intra-rock (and only a small part of it) than rock vs [x].

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Sunday, 5 June 2005 21:21 (sixteen years ago) link

"Music Mick" position on The Strokes on that other Strokes thread is a case in point...

Tim Finney (Tim Finney), Sunday, 5 June 2005 21:29 (sixteen years ago) link


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