Wednesday, January 6, 2010
BEST OF THE 00s: JACK WHITE -- MY PICK FOR ARTIST OF THE DECADE
In a decade where popular culture was dominated by famous people who were famous for being famous (or a willingness to do anything to be famous) and most credible rock bands had the "indie" thing (allergic to popularity - among many other things - way too much sarcasm, no charisma), songs seemed secondary and new artists seemed to lack much sense of history... Jack White was a remedy for all of these things. It was almost like, where was this creature spawned from? All of this stuff looks good on paper: the real deal is that Jack White is a great songwriter, and one of the most prolific ones in recent decades.
The former Goober & The Peas drummer of course formed his own band, The White Stripes, in the late '90s, and they released their classic self titled debut in 1999. Not many indie bands (or any bands) would have the audacity (or soul) to cover Bob Dylan ("One More Cup Of Coffee") and Robert Johnson ("Stop Breaking Down") on the same album (which was dedicated to Son House). In 2000 came De Stijl, their final indie effort (it was on Sympathy For The Record Industry, but was later reissued on V2). More covers: Son House's "Death Letter" and Blind Willie McTell's "Your Southern Can Is Mine." But also lots of Jack originals like "You're Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)."
2001's White Blood Cells catapulted them to the pop charts with "Fell In Love With A Girl" (clocking in at a lean one minute fifty) and also "Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground." 2003's Elephant is probably their greatest moment ever, and had one of the best songs of all time, "Seven Nation Army," which has been covered by Kelly Clarkson, Audioslave and The Oak Ridge Boys. The entire album was great. I remember seeing them on that tour, and Loretta Lynn opened up. She was amazing: Jack joined her on stage, and she returned the favor. I remember calling someone at her record label saying that they should get Jack to produce her next album, a la Rick Rubin and Johnny Cash. And guess what?
2004 saw the release of Van Lear Rose, a triumphant comeback album for Ms. Lynn, produced by Jack White. It also offered a glimpse of what he'd do more of in the future: work with musical icons and be comfortable rubbing shoulders with them. It also offered a glimpse of The Raconteurs: bassist Patrick Keeler and drummer Jack Lawrence (both of The Greenhornes) were in the band. (Oh yeah, between Elephant and Van Lear Rose, Jack also appeared in the film Cold Mountain, and did a few solo tunes for the soundtrack).
After that, Jack may have lost his way a bit: 2005's Get Behind Me Satan was a really good album, but probably The White Stripes' weakest. So, he formed The Racontuers with Keeler, Lawrence and singer-songwriter Brendan Benson. Their debut, 2006's Broken Boy Soldiers is a classic, and "Steady, As She Goes" is up there with "Seven Nation Army." Around this time, Jack also jammed with The Rolling Stones on "Loving Cup" on their documentary and live album Shine A Light. (The Raconteurs, meanwhile, got to jam with Pete Townshend on Rachel Fuller's In The Attic web series.)
By 2007, The White Stripes were back in effect, and Icky Thump is another White Stripes classic. "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)"... another classic. The tour of Canada was captured for the upcoming documentary Under Great White Northern Lights which comes out in a few months.
2008 saw another Raconteurs album, Consolers Of The Lonely, which proved that they weren't a one-off side project type deal. It didn't have a monster like "Steady, As She Goes" but still, it was an amazing album. They've since re-recorded some "Old Enough" as a bluegrass number with Ricky Skaggs and Ashley Monroe, and an R&B version of "Many Shades Of Black" with Adele. And after that, Jack and Alicia Keys teamed up for "Another Way To Die" for the James Bond franchise. It featured Jack on guitar and drums, with Patrick Keeler on bass.
Earlier this year, of course, Jack appeared with Jimmy Page and The Edge in the guitar documentary It Might Get Loud. He's one of the few guitarists of his generation who could pull that off. And then, after appearing in a film about his love for the guitar, he returned to the drums for his latest band, The Dead Weather, whose Horehound is one of my favorite albums of 2009.
I haven't even mentioned the fact that Jack (I believe) owns his masters, giving him a freedom that is pretty unheard of for artists of his stature, and he is leveraging that to be a force for good, via his Third Man Records. They record, on analog tape, single (that's a 7" 45rpm vinyl record with an A-side and a B-side). The Third Man VIP club also offers cool exclusive stuff for members, and so far it has been worth it.
Artistically, and as a guy forging his own path in the music industry, Jack is my dude of the decade. I know I say this a lot, but I really can't wait to see what the guy does next.