For a good chunk of 2014, I was part of a podcast called The Takedown Notice. We talked about some of our favorite music, bouncing between individual songs and favorite albums. We only released about ten episodes before going on extended hiatus, but we continued to record and create a backlog of episodes. Throughout the unreleased episodes, a running theme developed where I ended up bringing most subjects back around to Jack White. That doesn’t even include an extended episode on one of my favorite albums, Elephant by The White Stripes.
After a certain age, fandom isn’t really very becoming. I cared about music with tribal fervor in my teens and early twenties, but it feels obsessive when you’re in your 30s or older. But after discovering They Might Be Giants in my high school years, and digging into U2 during college, The White Stripes and the music of Jack White became the musical obsession of my adulthood. Albums like Elephant and Consolers of the Lonely loom large in my memory, and Jack White’s many projects served as my soundtrack for the past decade.
There are a lot of reasons for that. The obvious one is that Jack White just has a gift for kickin’ rock music. He’s an idiosyncratic guitarist and a gifted songwriter who wears his obsession over symbolism and lo-fi production on his sleeve. For good or ill, he is most definitely himself. But adulthood is also a time of reflection and not a small amount of nostalgia. An enormous part of Jack White’s appeal is his nostalgia. His musical influence is all from before roughly 1975, stretching all the way back to the 1920s. White prefers the tactile nature of vinyl and old-timey photographs to the ephemeral nature of digital media, and he’s gained a reputation as a luddite, someone who has been dragged into the 21st Century kicking and screaming.
That element of nostalgia is where I think I relate most to Jack White’s work. But for me it’s not exactly nostalgia for old musical styles and technology, though I like that kind of stuff too. It’s more of a desire to go back to a time when popular music was ruled by rock, by complete albums, by goofy gimmicks and big personalities. In the 2010’s this world has basically vanished. It’s not necessarily better or worse than when I was a teenager, but it’s definitely a past that I miss. Jack White is one of the only rock stars we have left. That he’s kind of an irascible one makes him a bit divisive, but he’s one of the few big personalities rock has at all.
Unlike many of the genre’s elder statesmen, Jack White has been unusually productive. He made his greatest artistic contributions as half of The White Stripes, but once that magic carpet ride ended he transitioned effortlessly to two different side project bands, and then to a successful solo career. Over his work with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and his solo work, he has created a voice that is so strong and so distinctive that even when it’s not as central (like in The Dead Weather) people talk about him anyway like he’s the focal point. In my head all of that music coalesces together into one basic artist: Jack White, the star who viewed the rock landscape, didn’t like what he saw, and decided to create his own little world where rock was still king and where all music was sold on vinyl.
So much like I did with U2 a couple of years ago, I’m going to go through the music of The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and Jack White’s solo career. I’ll be covering all the major album releases from all four of them, which equals out to fourteen albums if you count the White Stripes live album (and I do). There are of course many singles, rarities, and vinyl releases from all of these bands, and I couldn’t possibly cover all of those. In fact, since I don’t have a vinyl collection of my own, I haven’t heard most of them. I’m sure that would be disappointing to Jack White himself, but whatever.
I plan on covering all of these albums in chronological order, rather than taking them all on by artist. I’ll include how the various releases connect with me and what they have meant for me over the years, as well as an ongoing ranking of all of them in my own estimation.
We’ll start later this week to cover the eponymous debut from The White Stripes. We’ll see you then.