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The White Stripes - Three-Toned Rock
MUSIC is not a GENRE - Season 3 Episode #31




REC – “Some Things Happen” (from Parts and Labour)

REC – “No Way Out for Me” (from Symphony for the Weird)


Rock is like a slab of sidewalk. When it’s hot, it expands. When it’s not, it contracts. In the mid 1960s, rock was super hot. Thus you get complex expansions of the simple rock sound like chamber pop & concept albums. Same for the mid 1970s when prog rock reigned. In the late 1960s when the excesses of the previous eras were being picked apart, rock contracted into the simplicity of blues rock like Led Zeppelin & Let It Bleed era Stones. Same for the 1970s, when punk popped through prog rock’s overinflated balloon. And again in the early 1990s, when grunge stripped away the glam of hair metal.


Then there’s the garage rock revival of the early 2000s. By the end of the 1990s, rock had become warmed over grunge, overbearing nu metal, and watered down emo. Another purging was needed, and garage rock came in to do that. The Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, and in a HUGE way, the White Stripes.


It’s no accident that the White Stripes called their second album De Stijl, after the Dutch art movement that prized simple geometry & primary colors (think Mondrian). Jack & Meg White restricted both their look and their sound to three colors. Black, white & red. Drums, guitar, vocals. It was a deliberate limitation – a way to explore ultimate freedom within the strictest form.


I was slow to jump on the White Stripes train. My first response was that it was reductive in a deliberately artsy way. It was trying to prove a point that you don’t need all this new-fangled stuff to make good music. As much as I love the neo-lo-fi analog rock of Lenny Kravitz & the Stripes & others, I’m not a fan of people who don’t acknowledge the times they’re living in.


As they developed, I realized three things. First, I was right about all that, and it’s actually a GOOD thing. That kind of strictured exploration forces ultra creativity. Second, they were writing and performing kick-ass songs, so who cares how or why. Third, they WERE acknowledging the times by very deliberately going against them – by showing that no amount of hype can make a bad song good, and a great song will shine through the most sparing production.


I don’t pick sides. I like crazy blown up rock like prog & chamber pop. And I like stripped down sound like the Hives (my fave of that era), early Clash and early Led Zeppelin. As always, good music is good music no matter what it is or where it comes from. Since I pretty much like it all, when I make stripped down music I tend to throw in some more progressive elements too. You can hear that very clearly on these two songs, one from the White Stripes era and one just released:


REC – “Some Things Happen” (from Parts and Labour)

REC – “No Way Out for Me” (from Symphony for the Weird)


One side note about this never-ending cycle of expansion & contraction: Pay close attention to NOW. We’re coming out of a period when rock has not dominated the charts. But many young, new acts are re-embracing several different eras of rock. I predict in three years or less, rock will make a HUGE return to popularity.


Were you a fan of the White Stripes? Do you prefer music with more layers? Have you ever believed it when the media or a critic or some artist trying to get attention says that “rock is dead”? Or do you see the cycle that all pop music goes through? Discuss dammit!

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