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the only sound that's left after the ambulances go

It’s Official: The World Had Finally Lost its Mind Over Michael Jackson July 31, 2009

Filed under: Michael Jackson,Rants and Raves — yourbirdcansing88 @ 11:16 PM
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When Michael Jackson died, like the rest of America and probably the whole world, I grieved.  For maybe the first week or two.  But, unfortunately, the media continues to plague us with the latest news surrounding him and his death.  Enough’s enough already.  He’s dead; he’s not coming back; can we all please shut up about him already?  It’s bad enough all this legal crap over custody and belongings is being so publicized (personally, I think that legal proceeding should really be the sole concerns of those directly involved, regardless of their level of fame), and that most of us seem to neglect the fact that a great deal of the man’s mourners (alas – myself included) didn’t have a kind thing to say about him (except maybe the occasional indulgent comment on his talent) for years before his death.  But two things I just happened to catch on NBC yesterday revealed just how much sanity Jacko’s death has robbed the public of.  Yesterday morning, right after waking up, I turned on The Today Show and saw one of the hosts interviewing a guest who was…Michael Jackson’s personal cook?!  What the fudge, people?!  It astounds me that people would actually care about what the man ate – especially enough to want to know the recipes so they could fix up their own Michael Jackson meals.  I mean, what, do they think – his diet was made up of some kind of pop superstar ambrosia?  That if you eat the same food Jacko ate when he was alive, that you’ll somehow become some monarch of pop or something?  And anyway, I don’t know about you, but I’d really rather not intentionally cook myself a meal favored by someone who died of a heart attack.  I mean, after Elvis died, do you think people clamored over each other for peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches?

 

 

After getting over my initial horror from The Today Show, I was not relieved of Michael Jackson-fueled stupidity for long.  That night, I turned on NBC again and watched some of the nightly news before The Tonight Show With Conan O’ Brien came on.  One of the news stories involved some fancy-schmancy diamond company which – on top of stripping diamonds of all the wonder and rarity they’re valued for by apparently making diamonds synthetically through some sort of high-tech carbon-pressurizing process – have acquired bits of Mr. Jackson’s hair and are planning on making diamonds out of it.  Once again, what the fudge?!  At the end of the day, hair – no matter whose head it’s been on – is just hair.  Michael Jackson’s hair doesn’t contain any more mystical powers (just more expensive styling products) than mine does – where’s my hair-diamond, huh?  And anyway, don’t these people realize that they’re changing the very structure of Jacko’s hair beyond recognition?  How can we really tell that this diamond is made of his or anyone else’s hair?  No, if some of the King of Pop’s hair is left over from before his death, it should be kept in its natural state where it belongs:  in some Hard Rock Café, somewhere in between an Alice Cooper bustier and a collection of Monkees lunchboxes from the late sixties (note:  I’ve been to many a Hard Rock Café, but I don’t know of any where either of these things exist, let alone both of them, let alone within close proximity of each other.  The point is that these are both objects that could conceivably be found in a HRC, so work with me here.  It’s a hypothetical conjecture).  And if I hear or see one more extraneous news item related to Michael Jackson within the next few months (which undoubtedly I will), I might have to throw something hard and possibly damage-inducing at the TV or radio or whatever other media may administer this information.  I probably won’t, of course, but I’ll have vivid fantasies of it.

 

Video of the Week: “No Rain” by Blind Melon July 25, 2009

Filed under: Video of the Week — yourbirdcansing88 @ 1:28 AM
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Feeling down?  Just don’t feel like you fit in?  Going through a rough patch in your life?  Well, maybe this video can help lift your mood.  Since for the past couple of weeks, the videos featured as “Video of the Week” tended to lean a bit on the dark side, I thought it might be time for a cheerful, optimistic video.  What better choice, then, than Blind Melon’s “No Rain”?  Directed by Samuel Bayer, the video was first aired in the early 1990s, and has earned itself a reputation as one of the most popular and iconic videos of that decade, and possibly the entire history of music videos (a history which, by the way, dates all the way back to at least 1965 with Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”).  In fact, in my humble opinion, there’s a good chance that this might just be the greatest music video of all time (on my first “Video of the Week” entry I mentioned my discarded plan for a “Coolest Music Videos Ever” list.  Had I gone through with the list, I was seriously considering putting “No Rain” at the top).  So what is it about this video that makes it so great?  Well, we could start with its star:  an adorable young misfit who relates to the misunderstood outcast in all of us (regardless of whether we go around dressed as a tap-dancing bumblebee or not).  The video follows the bumblebee girl as she boldly (and without parental supervision, mind you.  Which might make the more cynical viewers wonder what kind of neglectful parents let their little girl run around the city alone like that) searches for a place where she belongs, and ultimately finds it.  On top of all that, the video is visually stunning, depicting a Wordsworthian paradise of a field bathed in sunlight, heavily contrasting with the industrial setting shown earlier in the video.  Interspersed between scenes of the bumble bee girl’s journey is footage of the band – all long-haired – frolicking in the grassy field like generationally-misplaced hippies.  And as I like to think of myself as a generationally-misplaced hippie, this video – to say nothing of the song itself, which is quite reminiscent of feel-good early-1970s rock – inevitably puts a smile on my face.  Hope it puts a smile on yours too.

 

 

To see the video for “No Rain”, click here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYlAwvz8uwc

 

I Still Hate Kate Moss. July 21, 2009

Filed under: The Kills,Ugh...Kate Moss — yourbirdcansing88 @ 9:11 PM
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What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong with this picture?

Kate Moss must seriously be plotting to destroy one of my favorite bands.  First she annihilates a bunch of brand-spanking-new Kills songs before they make it to the album, and now…NOW I hear that she’s trying to weasel her way into the band while Alison Mosshart’s gone off to play with Jack White for a spell.  I hope the rumors aren’t true that Jamie Hince is actually looking for a female singer to replace Alison Mosshart.  Alison and Jamie are The Kills.  And anyway, I thought Alison was only taking a temporary hiatus from the band to tour with The Dead Weather (all those other guys have other bands too, after all).  And who the heck does Kate Moss think she is, anyway, thinking she could replace Alison?  Earth to Kate:  Alison Mosshart has real talent; she doesn’t have to settle for making a living as a walking, talking, coke-sniffing, spotlight-stealing mannequin.  And if that weren’t bad enough, while doing some research (courtesy of Google) to find out more about Kate’s apparent plans to further sabotage The Kills, I also found some rumors that Kate and Jamie just might be engaged.  I think I may gag.  Jamie, you seem like an intelligent enough man.  Do the smart thing and dump that glorified skeleton before it’s too late.

 
 
 

Video of the Week: “Treat Me Like Your Mother” by The Dead Weather July 18, 2009

Part of me – the part that’s always strongly abhorred senseless violence – really wants me to hate the video for The Dead Weather’s latest single, “Treat Me Like Your Mother”.  Directed by Jonathan Glazer, the video premiered about a week or two ago on Cinemax and, for obvious reasons, probably won’t be showing up on VH1 any time soon.  By all logical reasoning, there’s very little in this video that should appeal to me.  The plot’s simple:  two people trek across a barren landscape toting machine guns, and for reasons which are never explained, open fire at each other.  They put an innumerable amount of bullets through each other, and yet neither one of them dies.  But I guess one of the few things that does appeal to me about this video – that is, that the duelers happen to be Jack White and Alison Mosshart – is what makes the video just look so dang cool.  And that’s probably because Jack White and Alison Mosshart are the type of people who can do just about anything – short of exhibiting certain bodily functions – and make it look cool.  Another thing about the video that appeals to me is its surrealism.  I mean, these two people shoot each other about a gazillion times, yet neither one of them drops dead.  I didn’t even realize just how surreal – or messed up – this video was until I watched it for a second time, and noticed that, at the end, you can actually see through the bullet holes shot through White’s body.  This video can’t be all that it seems; it’s got to be a metaphor for something.  For what, I’m not totally sure.  Either that, or it’s just proof that Jack White is in fact, as I’ve long suspected, not a mortal being, but the walking undead.  I’d say the same about Alison Mosshart, only it was already confirmed that she was a vampire in The Kills’ video for “Black Balloon” (no relation to the Goo Goo Dolls song of the same name.  Oh, and by the way, here’s a little disclaimer:  I make up conspiracy theories in my spare time just to amuse myself, and they’re not to be taken seriously.  Except for the one I made up about Warren Zevon and Hunter S. Thompson being long-lost twins.  That one I actually believe.  Well, almost).   Anyway, as much as I want to hate this video for not only its depiction of graphic violence, but the lack of realistic consequences resulting from said violence, I can’t help being fascinated by it.  I just would think twice before showing this video to any impressionable young children.  Jeez, listen to me; I’m starting to sound like those “video games make people violent” people that annoy me so.

 

The Dead Weather: So Much More than Jack White’s Other Other Band July 17, 2009

HorehoundEver since March, when word got out that Jack White had formed a new band called The Dead Weather, I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of their debut album, Horehound.  Around that time I had started regarding Mr. White as the savior of high-quality rock and roll in this era of overall musical mediocrity, so naturally my expectations were high from the start.  Now that I’ve finally gotten Horehound and have listened to it, I am amazed to say that the album has exceeded those already astronomical expectations.  I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive when I looked through the insert before putting on the CD (as I’ve mentioned before, the pre-listen glance through the insert is a new-CD ritual for me) and upon skimming the lyrics realized that pretty much all the songs (with the exception of “3 Birds”, which has no lyrics) have similar subject matter:  almost all the songs seem to be about someone in a mutually abusive, destructive, and/or sadomasochistic relationship.  I wondered if The Dead Weather’s music would be interesting enough to carry a common theme without sounding monotonous.  After listening to their album a couple of times, I can confidently say that they’ve succeeded.

There was a time when I referred to The Dead Weather as “Jack White’s new band.”  I have since seen the error of my ways, as this description doesn’t do the band justice.  Perhaps the biggest surprise I came across whilst listening to Horehound is that Jack White, much as I revere him and his seemingly boundless talent, is not the most impressive part of The Dead Weather.  Don’t get me wrong, his drumming is fantastic, and not just for a guy who’s mainly recognized as a guitarist.  It’s just that, on the few opportunities that White gets to provide lead vocals (with the exception of “Will There Be Enough Water?”), he comes off as…well…kind of annoying.  I’m not saying that his vocal itself is annoying; I’ve always been a fan of White’s voice and one album isn’t going to change that.  But “I Cut Like a Buffalo,” on which White provides lead vocals throughout, could have been a pretty good song if it didn’t feature the sound of simulated choking, which is at best unnecessary, and at worst downright disturbing.  Then there’s “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and “Rocking Horse,” on which lead vocals alternate between White and Mosshart.  In the former, the verses sung by Mosshart alone are great, and the part where she and White simultaneously spell “M-A-N-I-P-U-late” is pretty good, but the “Who’s got it figured out?” rap segments of the song, performed primarily by White, are less than extraordinary.  As for the latter, the only real problem I have with that one is the very fact that the lead vocals do alternate, and a bit too frequently (in the first couple of verses, the vocals are swapped every two or three lines).  I honestly think the song would sound much better if only one of the two members provided the lead vocals, or at least alternated every verse instead of every few lines.  But hey, that’s just me.

No, the member of the band who steals the show – quite possibly the only person who could ever upstage Jack White…well, short of Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, or Mick Jagger – is Alison Mosshart, hands down.  Her vocals – which sound like the love-child of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – suit the band’s dark and heavy blues-rock sound perfectly.  At times, the band even sounds like a modern, female-fronted equivalent of The Doors.  This is especially true for the songs “So Far from Your Weapon” and “No Hassle Night.”  In my humble opinion, the former is the best song on the album, with the slowly building music and threatening lyric (sample:  “There’s a bullet in my pocket burnin’ a hole. / You’re so far from your weapon and the place you were born.”) meshing perfectly with Mosshart’s low, seductive lead vocal, which is complemented perfectly in a call-and-response between her and all three of the other members.  Another high point on the album is the opening track, “60 Feet Tall,” in which Mosshart confidently wails to a lover who’s “cruel and shameless…cold and dangerous” that she’s up for the challenge:  “I can take the trouble, / I’m 60 feet tall!”  The album’s closing track, “Will There Be Enough Water?” also stands out.  It’s long and slow, not as heavy as the other songs on Horehound, and reminiscent of Bob Dylan (one could even say the lyric makes reference to an early Bob Dylan song, “When the Ship Comes In.”  And knowing what a huge influence Dylan has had on White, it’s probably a conscious reference).  The song features Jack White on the lead vocal, singing what Jack White, after all, sings best:  pure blues-rock.  After the song fades out, the sound of crickets can be heard for several seconds before the album finishes completely.  Quite a marvelous way to finish a great album.

Those of us who’ve waited as long for Horehound as I have were teased with a couple of singles and maybe a handful of live performances posted on YouTube while we waited.  Yet the two songs that were released as singles so far (“Hang You From the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother”), though both fairly good, don’t even begin to demonstrate how great The Dead Weather really are.  If you haven’t gotten Horehound yet, and you’re into hard rock and/or blues, or are otherwise open-minded when it comes to music, I would highly recommend that you run – don’t walk – to your nearest music-selling establishment as soon as possible and get Horehound.

 

Fear and Loathing in Dead Weatherville -or- Looks Like Jack White’s Finally Lost His Marbles in the Best Possible Way -or- All Work and No Play Make Jack Forget About Corn July 15, 2009

While I’m still anxiously awaiting the copy of Horehound I pre-ordered a couple of months ago (the album was released in the US yesterday), I’ve gotten hooked on this short interview video of The Dead Weather.  And look what all work and no play have done to our dear Jack…soon he’ll be chopping through doors with an axe and maniacally yelling catch phrases from prime-time talk shows (my money’s on Conan.  They have a history, those two).  Yes, I think Jack has finally lost it…and I’m kind of loving it.  Either that, or he’s started smoking the ol’ ganja (nah…).  The eerie organ music (provided by The Dead Weather’s bespectacled bassist and resident Zen philosopher, Little Jack Lawrence), the yellow haze, and the impression the band and interviewer give off of being stoned (although more likely than not, they’re just drunk and/or in a goofy mood) all give this video the feel of a deleted scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  In this video, you get to witness Jack White saying an R-rated word (and I always had Alison pegged as the potty-mouth of the group), imitating a ferocious bear, getting a popular piano man confused with a character from a Bobbie Gentry song, and forgetting about corn.  You heard me.  Don’t ask questions, just watch and enjoy.

(Sigh)…maybe my Horehound will come tomorrow…

 

And Since We’re on the Subject of The Wallflowers… July 13, 2009

Filed under: Reviews,The Wallflowers — yourbirdcansing88 @ 10:36 PM
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Let’s take a trip back in time, shall we?  It’s the mid-1990s, my age is still in the single digits, and there’s this song that’s always playing on the radio. I don’t know most of the words, but I know there’s this one line that goes, “They said she died easy of a broken-heart disease.” And believe me, those lyrics are enough to make a lasting impression on my elementary-school-aged self.  Along with a handful of songs from that Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young tape my mom’s always playing in the car, it’s probably one of the darkest songs that I’ve paid any attention to up to this point in my life.  I find that single line both intriguing and unsettling.  What is a broken heart disease?  Is it some kind of disease where your heart physically breaks?  Or can you really die from being heartbroken in the emotional sense?  Just that one line plagues me with questions, and I don’t even know what the song is called or who it’s by.

 

Fast forward about a decade and a half later, to Wednesday, July 8, 2009.  Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about that song that so puzzled me as a young’n’.  I now know that the song is called “One Headlight”, that it’s performed by The Wallflowers, and that it was written by the band’s lead singer Jakob Dylan, a man for whom abstract poetic phrases like “broken heart disease” (which I never did find out the meaning of, nor do I now feel there’s any reason to), are – let’s face it – something that runs in the family (“heart attack machine”, anyone?).  So why is this so important now, on this Wednesday night in early July?  I’ll tell you why, my pretties.  See, not only have I learned more about “One Headlight”, but I’ve also grown a new appreciation for that and other Wallflowers songs.  You could even say I’ve become somewhat of a fan of The Wallflowers.  Maybe not as big a fan as Alex, a good friend of mine whose favorite band is The Wallflowers and who has been a fan since the age of ten.  But you could safely say I’m a casual fan, at least.  Certainly enough of a fan to go and see them in concert.  Which is exactly what I was doing on Wednesday night, along with my mom and my Wallflowers-loving friend Alex.

 

The concert took place in a small community theater in Morristown, New Jersey.  Since the place was so small, there really wasn’t a bad seat in the house.  Which was a good thing, because our seats were way up towards the very back of the balcony.  We were basically in the closest a venue this small could get to having a nosebleed section, and we were still close enough so we could see the performers’ facial expressions.  We also noticed that the house was far from being packed, which puzzled me, since, to my knowledge, The Wallflowers are fairly popular.  That is, it puzzled me until I noticed whole gaggles of people coming in between the opening act – a practically unknown rock band called Wild Light – and The Wallflowers.  Their loss for being opening-act-skipping snobs, since Wild Light was one heck of a band.  On first glance, seeing the young quartet’s shaggy hair and skin-tight jeans, I thought:  oh, no, this is a bunch of emos, isn’t it?  But to my surprise, and my delight, these guys actually rocked (and anyway, I need to stop judging individual bands based on what genre they’re labeled as).  Much like The Beatles, every member provided vocals, and three of the four members played lead vocalist at least once (the drummer never sang lead, but he did provide lots of harmony vocals).  Actually, they did The Beatles one better in the versatility department by having every member (except, once again, for the drummer, who nevertheless was the most impressive member of the band.  On one song he drummed with one hand and shook a tambourine with the other, every now and then whacking the cymbal with the tambourine.  That’s what I call resourceful!) switch instruments between songs.  The guy who played the bass on the first song moved to the keyboards on the next song, handing his bass over to one of the guys who was previously playing guitar.  I think on one song they even had one member of the band pull a Geddy Lee and play both the bass and the keyboards.  At the end of their set, Wild Light spent about a minute thanking The Wallflowers for letting them be their opening act, which I thought was really gracious of them.  I’ve seen my share of opening acts, both good and bad (okay, mostly good.  The only bad one I can think of was one of the opening acts I saw at a Chris Hillman and Herb Pederson concert held in a tiny church), but never have I seen such appreciation such openly displayed by a supporting act before.

 

After a short break between the acts (during which awesome classic rock music was played, which really made time fly), The Wallflowers finally took the stage.  Jakob emerged wearing something that looked like a cross between a fedora and a cowboy hat.  I guess an affinity for hats must run in the family, too.  The band kicked off with “Sleepwalker”, which, along with “One Headlight”, is my favorite Wallflowers song (hence this week’s choice for “Video of the Week”).  As I sang along to the chorus (which, at the time, was the only part of “Sleepwalker” that I knew), I already had a great feeling that this would be a good night.  A few songs in, Jakob spoke to the audience for the first time, saying, “We’ve got a pretty good-looking audience tonight.  And I don’t say that at every show,” or something to that effect.  Whether he meant it or not, Alex and I both smiled.  Being called “good-looking” by a man who still frequently makes “sexy musician”-type lists is like being told by Eric Clapton that you’re a great guitar player, or having Robert Plant tell you that you’ve got a powerful set of pipes.  And anyway, I wasn’t sure if Jakob was going to talk at all during the concert, as he’s a notoriously private person (once again, something that runs in the family).  But he was surprisingly talkative, and – gasp! – even playful during the course of the concert.  “I think someone’s asleep in the fourth row,” he whispered into the microphone about halfway through the concert.  After the sleeper woke up, Jakob continued to gently tease him, asking if the woman next to him was his date, and then asking who she told the drowsy audience member they were going to see.  Someone a few rows in front of me yelled “Bob Dylan!”  I’m glad someone else did before I got the bright idea to, because I would have hated to have the second or two of cold silence that followed from Jakob to have been directed at me.  But all of Jakob’s agitation was in jest, and he even had the good humor to turn the joke on himself.  “I’ve never fallen asleep at any of our concerts.  I know I look like I’m asleep, but I’m not.”  And, around the same time he played “One Headlight”, I can’t remember if it was before or after he played it, he noticed some people in the audience were dancing and said something like, “Finally I got some of you to stand up.”  At this point, Alex and I decided to get up and dance, and didn’t sit down for the rest of the concert.

 

To my surprise “One Headlight” was not saved for the encore.  It turned out that there was a good reason why, as the theater’s 10:30 curfew limited the time they would have for an encore, and since they’d be extremely foolish to skip their most well-known song, and also since “One Headlight” is about five or six minutes long, it would not be wise to save it for the encore in case there wasn’t any time for it.  But sure enough, after the band left the stage for the first time that night, they returned a minute later to perform one last, short song.  “We don’t have much time left, and we really need to get out of here,” Jakob said, as he introduced the band.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t recall the names of any of the other members of the band, but I feel better about it now that I know that even Alex doesn’t know any of the other band members’ names.  After introducing all the other members of the band, the singer simply said, “My name’s Jakob, and we’re The Wallflowers.”  I admired his modesty, and his refusal to bring any attention to his very famous last name.  He’s always wanted to make it on his own, and he’s certainly succeeded.  As for my experience at the concert Wednesday night, I have to say it’s one of the best concerts I’ve been to, and even though I only knew a handful of songs, I enjoyed myself immensely the entire time.  In fact, I might just have to get a few of their albums now so I can hear some more of their songs.  Once again, The Wallflowers have made a lasting impression on me.

 

Video of the Week: “Sleepwalker” by The Wallflowers July 12, 2009

It’s not easy being a celebrity.  It’s even harder to be a celebrity when a great deal of people know you less for your talent and more for your last name.  So, who would be the poster child for overlooked talent brought on by being spawned by a living legend?  Quite possibly, The Wallflowers’ lead singer Jakob Dylan, son of…c’mon, do I really have to say it?  In spite of his reluctance to be compared to his father, Jakob does undeniably share some important traits with his father.  For one thing, he’s got the same wide-set, beautifully melancholy, “bluer than robin’s eggs” (according to Joan Baez) eyes and curly brown hair.  He also has a strong affinity for hats and extraordinary skill as a lyricist.  In addition, so like his father, Jakob is a very private person and doesn’t give many interviews.  And can you blame him?  The only thing more annoying than being expected to answer stupid questions about Bob Dylan when you’re Bob Dylan is being expected to answer stupid questions about Bob Dylan when you’re Jakob Dylan.

 

So what does this all have to do with “Sleepwalker”?  Plenty.  The video, directed by Mark Romanek portrays Jakob Dylan as a man uncomfortable with his status as an idol.  Bob Dylan, too, faced this same problem, although at least he didn’t have the added burden of being related to someone famous.  The video also depicts Jakob Dylan’s ability to make fun of himself and his celebrity status, helping him to overcome the embarrassment of being marketed as a commercial product.  At least that’s what I get from it, anyway.  I could be totally wrong.  Anyway, the video is also visually intriguing, containing many striking and unusual images, such as the young Dylan being wrapped in a flowing American flag, a gaggle of young women in brightly colored clothes gawking out a shop window at an indifferent Jakob, and (my personal favorite) the singer wearing a headset that’s plugged into…a dead fish?  What does it all mean?  Beats me.  But it sure makes for a cool video.

 

Watch the video for “Sleepwalker” here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jw7YfLSgfM0

 

Jack White: The Discography (So Far)

There are several reasons right now for me to post a (sorta) complete retrospective of Jack White’s albums (definition of “complete” depends on whether or not you count movie soundtracks he’s contributed to, guest appearances he may have made on other artists’ albums, or bands he was in prior to The White Stripes.  If you count any of those, this list is far from complete.  Sorry.  I kind of jumped on the Jack White bandwagon late and was not able to delve that deeply into his work.  So sue me).  One reason is that Jack White’s birthday was a couple of days ago (Thursday, to be exact).  Happy 34th, Jack.  Another reason is that his latest band, The Dead Weather, are coming out with their debut album, Horehound, later this month(and when I say “later this month,” I mean really really really soon.  Like in 2 or 3 days soon).  It’s about time, too.  I’ve been waiting for this thing since early March (actually, since around the same time this blog was started).  So in preparation for Horehound, and in honor of the birthday boy, I now present to you a detailed discography — in chronological order, mind you — of all the albums Jack’s released with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs.

 

The White Stripes

The White Stripes — The White Stripes (1999)

Way back in 1999, long before The White Stripes hit the mainstream, and shortly before lead singer/guitarist Jack White and drummer Meg White filed for the most amicable of divorces (though to this day they still claim to be siblings.  I’m sure they know they’re not fooling anyone anymore, but to be fair, maybe the whole reason why they got divorced was because their bond was too fraternal to last as a marriage.  So, for all intents and purposes, they have a brother-sister relationship), The White Stripes released their self-titled debut album.  Released when Mr. and Ms. White were still living in their hometown of Detroit, The White Stripes features a raw, savage sound best described as “punk blues” (it makes a lot more sense when you actually hear it), combining the structure and rhythm of blues music with the fast tempo and high volume of punk rock, while also embracing the minimalism that both genres share.  Minimalism is a key ingredient to The White Stripes’ credo, contributing to everything from the band’s primitive recording techniques to its very strict dress code (as The White Stripes, Jack and Meg are only ever seen wearing red, white, black, or any combination of those three colors), and though they’ve never abandoned their minimalist approach to music, on no album did they adhere to it more than on their very first album.

Recommended Tracks:  “Sugar Never Tasted So Good”; “Cannon”; “Broken Bricks”; “Screwdriver”; “I Fought Pirhanas”.

 

De Stijl

The White Stripes — De Stijl (2000)

The White Stripes’ sophomore album — named after an early-20th-century Dutch art movement (translation:  “the style”) that valued minimalism and geometric shapes — was released one year after the band’s debut album.  De Stijl saw the band dabbling in a more diverse range of genres, from the mid-1960s-pop-rock-sounding “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)” to the bouncy piano tune “Apple Blossom”, to the country-tinged cover of bluesman Blind Willie McTell’s “Your Southern Can is Mine”.  Still, the punk blues sound that was so pervasive on The White Stripes still radiates heavily on De Stijl, most notably on songs like “Hello Operator”, “Let’s Build a Home”, and the band’s cover of Son House’s “Death Letter”.

Recommended Tracks:  “You’re Pretty Good Looking (For a Girl)”; “Hello Operator”; “Death Letter”; “Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise”; “A Boy’s Best Friend”; “Let’s Build a Home”.

 

White Blood Cells

The White Stripes — White Blood Cells (2001)

This is the album that launched the Stripes into the stratosphere of stardom, and all it took was one minute and 55 seconds of energetic retro-rock and the lego-filled video that went withit.  I’m talking about The White Stripes’ very first hit single — “Fell in Love With a Girl”.  A mere four years after Jack and Meg formed their candy-colored musical duo, they’d made the big time.  Soon to follow would be MTV apperances, speculations revolving around the nature of the pair’s relationship (one minute the public buys the idea that they’re brother and sister — I mean, heck, they look like they could be siblings! — and the next minute their divorce papers are circulating around the internet…someone has some ‘splaining to do), and the inclusion of “We’re Going to Be Friends” (in my humble opinion, the greatest song ever released by The White Stripes, and quite possibly the greatest song Jack White has ever written.  So far, that is) in the opening credits of the love-it-or-hate-it (I happened to love it.  Though I didn’t love those of my peers who quoted it ad nauseam.  Way to ruin a good film, guys) teen cult film Napoleon Dynamite.  The band’s sound was remarkably different on White Blood Cells than on their previous two albums, relying less on the punk blues sound and more heavily on straight-up garage rock.  However, in spite of the slight change in style, White Blood Cells is no less ecclectic a collection than De Stijl, gathering influence from country (“Hotel Yorba”), 1970s hard rock (“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”), 1970s soft rock (“The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”), folk (“We’re Going to be Friends”), scat (“Little Room”), mid-1960s proto-punk (“Fell in Love With a Girl”) and Citizen Kane (“The Union Forever”).

Recommended Tracks:  “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”; “Fell in Love With a Girl”; “The Union Forever”; “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”; “We’re Going to Be Friends”; “I Can’t Wait”; “I Can Learn”.

 

Elephant

The White Stripes — Elephant (2003)

If White Blood Cells was the springboard from which The White Stripes leapt into stardom, Elephant was the huge splash they made when they landed in it.  Elephant features the riff-driven “Seven Nation Army”, which remains the Stripes’ biggest hit to this day.  And that’s just the beginning of the impact Elephant made on the band’s career.  Elephant won the Stripes their first two Grammy awards in 2004 (Best Alternative Album; Best Rock Song for “Seven Nation Army”).  Also on Elephant is “The Hardest Button to Button”, the video for which was parodied a couple years later on an episode The Simpsons in which The White Stripes themselves made a brief cameo.  Once Elephant was let loose, the Stripes were practically unstoppable.  Pretty soon they had a week-long gig on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Jack White started doing crazy celebrity things like appearing as a minor character in a war epic, dating an actress or two, getting into a tussle with a former protegee, making occasional onstage appearances at Bob Dylan concerts, and collecting taxidermy (oh, wait — he was already doing that).  But anyway, back to what’s really important about Elephant:  the music.  The White Stripes’ fourthalbum saw them returning to their blues-rock roots with songs like “Black Math”, “In the Cold, Cold Night” (featuring Meg White’s first ever lead vocal), and the unbearably sexy “Ball and Biscuit”.  Yet the Stripes also continued to experiment with a variety of different styles.  “Seven Nation Army”, though undoubtedly a rock song, has a beat that can be easily danced to (Mom, if you’re reading this, please spare me the Dick Clark reference), while “There’s No Home for You Here” features multi-tracked vocal harmonies that sound like a weird hybrid of The Beatles and Queen.

Recommended Tracks:  “Seven Nation Army”; “Black Math”; “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself”; “In the Cold, Cold Night”; “You’ve Got Her in Your Pocket”; “Ball and Biscuit”; “The Hardest Button to Button”.

 

Get Behind Me Satan

The White Stripes — Get Behind Me Satan (2005)

Sometime around 2005, Jack White evidently felt the need to unleash his inner Leon Russell.  Thus, he grew some facial hair, developed a strong attachment to wide-brimmed hats, and released the piano-heavy Get Behind Me Satan.  In spite of the album’s title and cover art, Jack White’s quasi-gothic appearance at the time, and the dark quality of the album’s first single, “Blue Orchid”, as well as the eerie video that went with it, Get Behind Me Satan contains some of the lightest, most pop-oriented material The White Stripes have yet produced.  Though, in my opinion, Get Behind Me Satan is altogether a relatively weak album (especially when it had the misfortune of following Elephant), it does contain some of Jack White’s most beautiful, introspective songs, with “Ugly as I Seem” and “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”.

Recommended Tracks:  “My Doorbell”; “Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)”; “Little Ghost”; “The Denial Twist”; “As Ugly as I Seem”; “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet”.

 

Broken Boy Soldiers

The Raconteurs — Broken Boy Soldiers (2006)

In 2006, the music world was introduced to Jack White’s new band, The Raconteurs.  Joining forces with solo artist Brendan Benson and The Greenhornes’ Little Jack “LJ” Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, Jack and his new bandmates preferred not to call their supergroupa “side project”, but instead a “new band made up of old friends.”  Their retro-style brand of modern hard rock proved that The Raconteurs had potential for staying power and appealing to a wide audience.  Having three additional band members rather than just one also helped take some of the pressure off of Jack’s performance, as he got to share vocal and guitar duty with Benson.  The Raconteurs also gave Jack some room to play withsounds completely separate from The White Stripes’ material.  It is quite easy to distinguish a Raconteurs song from a White Stripes song, and there are many Raconteurs fans who prefer them to The White Stripes.  That fact alone is enough evidence to suggest that The Raconteurs were more than just a side project.  As for me, I enjoy bothbands about equally (though I lean a little more towards The White Stripes, if only because they have more material out).  Listen to both if you want to decide for yourself.

Recommended Tracks:  “Hands”; “Broken Boy Soldier”; “Together”; “Yellow Sun”; “Blue Veins”.

 

Icky Thump

The White Stripes — Icky Thump (2007)

To the relief of all the White Stripes fans who thought Jack had abandoned his soul sister so he could continue playing with the boys, Jack and Meg returned again with Icky Thump.  And for all we know, Mr. White may have needed that year off with another band to refuel his peppermint-flavored creative juices for The White Stripes.  Because Icky Thump is a darn fine album, and showcases a diversity of musical styles that spans further than the Stripes had ever dared to reach before.  Jack celebrates his Scottish heritage with the bagpipe-driven “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew”.  And though The White Stripes have performed many covers before on previous albums, few — if any — are as unusual as their latin-flavored cover of Patti Page’s 1952 hit “Conquest”.  Yet, with the Stripes’ ever-increasing exploration of different styles on Icky Thump, there’s still plenty of room for the classic garage rock/punk blues sound that The White Stripes started out with, which can be heard on such songs as “Bone Broke”, “Little Cream Soda”, “Rag and Bone”, and “Catch Hell Blues”.

Recommended Tracks:  “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)”; “300 M.P.H. Outpour Blues”; “Little Cream Soda”; “Rag and Bone”; “A Martyr for My Love for You”; “Catch Hell Blues”.

 

Consolers of the Lonely

The Raconteurs — Consolers of the Lonely (2008)

In 2008, The Raconteurs set out to prove that they weren’t just a one-album wonder.  And what a way to prove it.  This is the very album that made me a Jack White fan, and so will always hold a special place in my heart.  I was convinced that good rock and roll had gone down the tubes (and I don’t mean the London subway system — though I do remember seeing huge ads for Consolers on subway walls when I was in London last summer) until that fateful day in late January when I went out on a limb and decided to check these guys out (well, that and I needed a recent album to review for my reviewing and publishing class.  The same class responsible for me starting this blog, now that I think about it).  But enough about me.  This album is a prime example of how modern rock can still…well, rock.  The trick is to pay homage to older music, without adhering too firmly to any one genre.  Take, for example, “These Stones Will Shout”, which begins with a Cat Stevens/Donovan type of gentle folk, and gradually builds up to a powerful Zeppelinesque hard rock sound.  And that just barely scratches the surface of how awesome and diverse this album is.  Within the fourteen songs featured on Consolers, one can hear the essence of such genres as folk, blues, country, punk, bluegrass, 1970s metal, southern rock, hard rock, soft rock, and spaghetti-western-soundtrack-type-music (see “The Switch and the Spur”).  So please excuse my gushing; after all, this was the first album — the first anything, really — that I ever wrote a review for.  And before I go about paraphrasing the entire review I wrote for class, let me just finish by saying this:  Consolers of the Lonely was robbed of a Grammy.  Coldplay can stick their Rock Album of the Year award…uh…somewhere where it will be very painful to stick a small metallic gramophone.  Like…up their nose or something.  And that’s the end of my uncharacteristically biased rant.  My apologies to Coldplay and anyone who may be a huge Coldplay fan.

Recommended Tracks:  “Salute Your Solution”; “Old Enough”; ‘The Switch and the Spur”; “Hold Up”; “Top Yourself”; “These Stones Will Shout”; “Carolina Drama”.

 

Video of the Week: “Bad” by Michael Jackson July 4, 2009

I’m starting this new thing on my blog called “Video of the Week”.  I originally wanted to do a “Top 20 Coolest Music Videos Ever” post, but this idea proved too complicated when I realized:

1.  There are just way too many cool music videos out there to narrow them down to just 20.  And then there’s the ordeal of putting them in order.  Oh, the horror!

2.  New cool videos come out all the time, and every week or so I come across a handful of awesome videos on YouTube or Fuse or whatever that I was never aware of, meaning the list would soon become outdated.

3.  There’s also a question of whether a video qualifies as “cool” just because I find it enjoyable.  One of my favorite videos ever is Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s cover of “Dancing in the Street”, but I hesitate to refer to two badly dressed, middle-aged (albeit talented, iconic, and in most other situations, cool as anything) Brits dancing cheesily around what looks like an abandoned warehouse as “cool”.  Amusing, yes.  Legendary, maybe.  But “cool” just doesn’t seem to be the right word for it.

 

So I’ve decided instead to feature a post every week on a video that I’ve been digging lately or that has some significance relating to the time of year (i.e., around Christmas, I might feature the video for “Father Christmas” by The Kinks.  That’s a big “might,” so don’t hold me to it.  I don’t want any die-hard Kinks fans complaining that they didn’t get their “Father Christmas” this year when Christmas rolls around). These videos can be brand new, or older than “Bohemian Rhapsody” (and you kids thought that was the first music video, didn’t you?  Clearly you’ve never seen the video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues”), they could be totally cliché music videos that just about everyone and their grandmother has seen (i.e. “Oops, I Did it Again” by Britney Spears.  Though that’s a bad example, because I’m pretty sure I’ll never wind up using that one for “Video of the Week.”  And anyway, I know for a fact that my grandmother has never seen it.  Then again, I doubt she’s ever seen any music videos), or some totally obscure music video that may or may not have a cult following consisting entirely of me and a handful of college friends (i.e. “Tape Song” by The Kills — which I will almost certainly be featuring as “Video of the Week” at some point).

 

So now, without further ado, I have chosen, as my first ever video of the week, “Bad” by Michael Jackson.  I don’t think I really need to explain the reasoning behind this one.  Well, maybe just a little, for those of you who are wondering why I chose this instead of “Thriller” or “Scream” or “Billie Jean” or whatever your favorite Jacko video may be.  I chose this one because…well…none of the other ones were directed by Martin Scorsese, hmm, were they?  And that, my friends, is enough for me.  Besides, I find that “Scream” made a terrific error in not including color, and let’s just say I might be saving “Thriller” for a more…fitting occasion, if you catch my drift (*cough* the time of year when you dress up like someone else and ask virtual strangers for candy and watch loads of Tim Burton movies *cough*).  Besides, “Bad” has one of the funniest — and quite possibly the most vaguely disturbing — Weird Al parodies ever, with “Fat”.  So enjoy the following videos (hey, it was a real pain in the neck to find “Bad” in full on YouTube, so you’ll just have to deal with it being split into two parts), forgive me for my sudden crankiness (it’s late at night, after all, and I’ve also gone days without watching The Mighty Boosh for the sake of my own sanity and am now suffering from serious Boosh withdrawal), and remember that even though the King of Pop is no longer with us, his influence is immortal.

Part 1:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7n8LHOgg0U

Part 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b34OpbG7Res&feature=related

 

And if any of you need some comic relief, I’ve also included a link to Weird Al’s parody:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqz1ojIQTBk