Primary Colors

In fact, the Stripes do broody better than I've ever heard it: broody like Zep, but also broody like Loretta Lynn (to whom they dedicate White Blood Cells). Their genre is punk blues, but it doesn't stop there—despite its lack of covers, bass, slide guitar, and drum solos, the new album is wildly eclectic, with a bigger, more obvious country influence than before. It's got great piano: The gorgeous, bare, two-minute closing track, "This Protector," has an almost elegiac elegance and innocence. And the thunderously determined piano refrain of "I'm Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman," I'm told, helps make it the album's most boner-worthy number.

"I like stuff like '40s piano music and Broadway tunes. I also like the Stooges and that kind of rock'n'roll," Jack explains. "And as much as I can, I mix them together." Garage punk needs songwriting skills, and vice versa. Take the barn-burning but un-bloated standout "Hotel Yorba"—a bouncy acoustic narrative with a begging-you-to-sing-along chorus (involving counting! I haven't been this excited since Gloria Estefan's "1-2-3"!). In a quiet interlude, Jack proposes, "Let's get married in a big cathedral by a priest," Meg's childlike beats providing serene anticipation.

"All this stuff with raunchiness and swearing and talking about naked girls and all that, I'm really turned off by that kind of stuff—that's getting really old," Jack says. (Jon Spencer was skulking around the bar at the Bowery show, skinny and lame compared to Jack.) In fact, all of White Blood Cells is sweet on and toward the ladies, while compromising none of the guitar kick (guitar kick without big-fat-dick ethos) that attracts straight men to Jack White. The songs about marriage crack me up—and there are a ton of them. "The Union Forever" disclaims love's selfish incarnations almost entirely in exact lines from Citizen Kane (in case you thought the "I'm not interested in oil wells and real estate" part was Jack's own declaration of principles). And when White Blood Cells' lyrics are '60s-boyfriend pissy, as in the Sonics-rocking "I Can't Wait" ("who do you think you're messing with, girl?"), they have last lines like "I wish this house felt like a home" instead of "Satan's gonna kick your ass."

Psychologically siblings at least
photo: Patrick Pantano
Psychologically siblings at least

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Jack, I think, is a feminist. He thrillingly defends his bitchy baby's "heart of stone" in De Stijl's mournfully angry "Truth Doesn't Make a Noise," matter-of-factly addressing some clamoring pussies as follows: "Can't you people just leave her alone? . . . The quivers of her bones below are the signs of a girl alone." (Compare this to Zep's whiny and lustful pronouncement about how the "soul of a woman was created below.") And the infectious "You're Pretty Good Looking (for a Girl)" is like the Stones' "Stupid Girl" chewed up and spit out rad—with pro-lady lyrics lurking beneath the surface.

Jack is also a Luddite of sorts, complaining to Spin.com, "Why do we have to buy a cell phone, you know what I mean? A lot of that stuff upsets me." Clearly a man after my own heart; too bad he has a red-haired (duh!) girlfriend, also in a Detroit band. And yeah, he's rabid about his hometown. Check out the Jack-produced Sympathetic Sounds of Detroit(choice tracks: "I'm Through With White Girls" by former Gorie Mick Collins's new band, the Dirtbombs, and the fuzzy, funny "Decal on My Sticker" by the Whirlwind Heat. Best-title winner: "Shaky Puddin' " by the Soledad Brothers). And read its liner notes: "No suit from L.A. or New York is going to fly to Detroit to check out a band and hand out business cards."

Well, whatever. The White Stripes are the most sincere and thus un-lame band so far this century. And Jack makes it look easy. "More melody and idea," as he puts it. "Instead of just lamenting about girls and cars or drugs."

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