We probably shouldn’t be too surprised by news of The White Stripes’ split. The duo haven’t released an album in four years, and have barely played any shows since cancelling their planned UK tour in September 2007.
Since then, Jack White has thrown himself into so many other projects – The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, collaborating with Alicia Keys on a Bond theme, producing tracks for Laura Marling – it was starting to look like displacement activity to mask the fact that he basically just wasn’t that keen on doing another White Stripes record.
Besides, there is more music to look forward to: Third Man’s statement announcing the split made it clear that unreleased material would be made available.
Even so, it’s a melancholy thought that we may never see Jack and Meg perform live again. In full flight, The White Stripes channelled the pure, feel-it-in-your-chest power of rock n’roll better than any band. They came along at a time when guitar music was in the doldrums – their self-titled debut album came out in June 1999, a summer when so little of note was happening, NME was forced to put Mel C, Gay Dad and Marilyn Manson (twice!) on the cover.
The White Stripes made an awful lot of previously fey indie types fall in love with proper old-fashioned hollering blues. They’re also, lest we forget, responsible for some of the most memorable guitar riffs ever. Here’s a look back at some of their career highlights.
Hard to imagine now, but until 2001 people still genuinely believed that Jack and Meg were brother and sister, rather than a divorced couple. It was a brilliant piece of dissembling by the band, which ensured acres of coverage. So much so, America’s august Time magazine ran a feature on the ruse.
Before The White Stripes, tabloids like The Sun totally ignored bands from NME’s world. Britpop had been a blip. So it felt bizarre when breathless live reviews of The White Stripes started appearing in the red tops in 2001 (the Daily Mirror called them “the greatest band since The Sex Pistols”). For better or worse, Jack and Meg ushered in the modern era of endless music coverage in the mainstream press.
‘White Blood Cells’
The first two albums (1999’s ‘The White Stripes’ and 2000’s ‘De Stijl’) were thunderous and raw – but their third album, released in 2001, contained tunes you could hurl your friends around a dancefloor to. It sold half a million, Michel Gondry did an amazing video for ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, and The White Stripes were a Detroit scene band no longer.
‘Seven Nation Army’
The first single from ‘Elephant’, this primal stomp primed us to expect something very mighty indeed – and the album itself didn’t disappoint. NME gave it a frothing 9/10 review, with John Mulvey noting: “It sounds massive, but intimate: between Jack’s slide runs, you can virtually hear the air moving round the studio.”
Their first album for major label Warner, and far and away their most diverse, featuring Mariachi horns, bagpipes, and some of the most thrilling hooks of the band’s career. Read our original review here.
Under Great White Northern Lights
As befits one of the all-time great live bands, a suitably in-depth and luxurious tour film and live album, released in 2010. It’s not all sweaty onstage action – there are moments of real poignancy, especially looking back now: the film ends with a version of ‘White Moon’ played by Jack White at a piano. It leaves Meg White in tears.