The White Stripes : White Blood Cells

Detroit 'siblings' play the blues

As nu-metal bands proliferate at a rate that usually requires a visit from Rentokil, the unconverted could feel swamped by the tide of unhealthy mental filth rising up the charts. It’s an unprecedented cosmic kindness, then, that for every band squawking at their parents like ungainly chicks demanding worms, America should be producing an equal volume of excellent guitar bands who haven’t swapped their brains for a GameBoy Advance.

Of course, the appeal of [a]Linkin Park[/a], [a]Papa Roach[/a] and compadres partly springs from their convincing modernism, a genre-spanning hybrid that relishes the challenges of 21st century teenhood. Conversely, it takes three seconds of [a]White Stripes[/a]’ third album to recognise that this is a band in thrall to rock’n’roll’s hairy past, unafraid to take on the auras of bluesmen who died before the birth of television and twist them into heavy psychedelic freak-outs. Yet somehow, sibling duo Jack and Meg White manage to make music that thrums with a biological rather than historical imperative, their minimal line-up streamlining soured Cream riffing and demon-summoning [a]Led Zeppelin[/a] grandeur into songs blessed with the skinny modern attitude of The Moldy Peaches or [a]At The Drive-In[/a].

Brother-sister bands instantly possess a perverse, cultish appeal, and it’s easy to imagine singer-guitarist Jack and drummer Meg locked in a white room with black curtains by their sinister longhair parents. The follow-up to last year’s excellent ‘De Stijl’, ‘White Blood Cells’, instantly creates a clammy world of its own, Jack’s paranoid obsessions looming darkly over the untrammelled riffing. The perfect kitsch Pixies of ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, or the fey childhood-sweetheart folk of ‘We’re Going To Be Friends’ hint at many moods but ultimately, ‘White Blood Cells’ is the sound of a basement bedsit breakdown, a free-festival for the clinically furious. ‘Offend In Every Way’ is reminiscent of [a]Beck[/a]’s ominous ‘Diamond Bullocks’ role-playing; ‘Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground’ could be [a]Jon Spencer Blues Explosion[/a] with a silver tune in his mouth; while ‘The Union Forever’ is threaded with the deft guitar logic of The Animals.

This is the house of the Rising Stars: the lyrics are great, the attitude unmistakable. “What would I have liked to be? Everything you hate” yelps Jack while the Latinate lurch of ‘I Smell A Rat’ – “All you little kids think you know where it’s at… Using your parents like a welcome mat” – hints at a moral fibre [a]Limp Bizkit[/a] would do well to observe.
Great songs, a great look and self-discipline, too. Rock’n’roll might have been the ruin of many a poor boy, but [a]White Stripes[/a]’ are made guys.

Victoria Segal