I wasn’t convinced that the White Stripes’ Elephant was as good as other pundits believed it to be.
The state of music in 2001 — dominated by nü metal, with teen pop well into its decline — fostered the kind of desperation that made said pundits cling for dear life onto something that sounded genuine.
So when the White Stripes released the follow-up to the surprise 2002 hit, White Blood Cells, critics made sure to shower the album with praise, perhaps unconsciously hoping the good press would mean never having to listen to another fucking Linkin Park album ever again.
Get Behind Me Satan, the follow-up to the follow-up, continues the White Stripes more exapnded sound. Rather than relying exclusively on guitar and drums, some piano, marimba, acoustic guitars and banjos work their way into the songs.
It also confirms that Elephant, while similarly ambitious, just doesn’t possess the kind of charm as the albums preceding and succeeding it.
Get Behind Me Satan was recorded in a compact two weeks, and memory serves correctly, it was written in about that amount of time as well.
On first listen, the album seems chaotic, as if Jack and Meg decided to throw together the first 13 songs they came across and call it an album. (Maybe that’s exactly what they did.)
Individually, a number of the songs are incredibly distinctive. The off-rhythmic bursts of guitar on “The Nurse” share nothing with the full Appalachain jam of “Little Ghost”. The slow-burning but still fiery “Instinct Blues” seems distantly related to the simple poignancy of “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”.
“Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)” could have fit well on Elephant, whereas “White Moon” sounds like it could have belonged on White Blood Cells.
Together, these individual moments don’t seem like candidates for a single-flowing album, but somehow, they work together. Perhaps it’s because the Whites are willing to explore the full spectrum of their sound.
They can sound like mountain musicians. They can sound like blues wanderers. They can sound like indie rockers.
And they’re willing to put that all out on a single album, which gives it strength.
Elephant was a necessary step to keep the audience they won over with White Blood Cells from skipping out, but Get Behind Me Satan feels like the true follow-up.
P.S. A long while back, a reader took offense at my remark that “Jack and Meg are riding their 15 minutes as hard and fast as they can while it lasts”. He confused fame with longevity and thought I was taking potshots at the band’s music. There will be a time the White Stripes won’t be on every fucking cover of New Music Express. That doesn’t mean they’ll stop making good music.