Sound — 8
Faux brother-and-sister garage blues duo The White Stripes, composed of drummer Meg White and guitarist/singer Jack White heralded the revival of rock and roll along with the Strokes following a decade of increasingly derivative alternative. The White Stripes is a deliberately low-fi effort (just the first of Jack's many eccentricities, luckily for us, he'd outgrow this one) that production-wise doesn't sound better than most early '80s hardcore. Meg already has her primitive beat mastered (think the Velvet Underground's Mo Tucker here), but Jack doesn't yet have his massive array of guitar effects here. But honestly, all of this just creates a humble, authentic blues-rock record. Jack would later become a more competent rock songwriter, but never did he sound more sincere than right here.
Lyrics — 8
The album starts off with the 1-2 punch of "Jimmy the Exploder", a pounding garage stomper and a rocking cover of Robert Johnson's classic "Stop Breaking Down," using the Rolling Stones arrangement. "The Big Three Killed My Baby" is yet another winner, this time telling a humorous narrative of the Detroit auto industry (from where the Stripes hail). "Suzy Lee" takes us into slow blues territory, with Jack's slide guitar used to create a lazy atmosphere. "Sugar Never Tasted So Good" introduces us to the novelty acoustic Stripes song. Some enjoy these interludes, I've never been one of them. Luckily, the album launches back into garage blues soon enough, though the next couple songs reek of genericism. The next winner here is "Astro," a prime example of the Stooges' lasting influence in Detroit. The song is based on a simple riff and contains just one lyric - "Maybe does the Astro." Despite this, the song is short enough to avoid becoming repetitive. "Broken Bricks" is yet another basic rocker (this album is full of them), but it's memorable. "Do" starts off promising enough with a stolen Blind Melon lick, but the song fails to evolve, and it overstays it's welcome by about 2 minutes. The next track, "Screwdriver," is more notable for being completely ripped off by Jet a couple years later than for being a great song. The Dylan cover ("One More Cup of Coffee," from his 1976 album Desire) gives us another welcome break from the raw blues-rawk that dominates this album's midsection. Though Jack simplified the arrangement, presumably so he could sing and play guitar, the song is played with enough passion to render it as one of the more memorable Dylan covers recorded (though I wouldn't call it better than the original). The organ here augments the song nicely. A couple more generic blues-rockers follow (though it may just seem that way because they're overabundant on this album) until we get to the great cover of the traditional blues song "St. James Infirmary." Though Jack's piano playing here is rudimentary at best, Jack's charisma as a performer carries the song (arguably the best on the album). Things close up with "I Fought Piranhas," which starts off a deceptively slow blues accompanied by slide guitar before exploding in to garage rock madness. Overall, it's a great way to end a decent blues-rock effort.
Overall Impression — 8
Not surprisingly, this album did not sell well. It wouldn't be until the band's third album that they would finally achieve commercial success, but Jack's attempt to make a '60s garage blues album here comes off convincingly. The material here isn't as complex or mainstream as later albums, but it's an artistic statement, and a damned fun one at that.