Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be

Jack and Meg Find a Little Place to Fight 'Em Off

So while Elephant may not be the subspecies of pachyderm that never forgets, it's at least the kind where you'll be as clueless as all those blind guys from India if you only concentrate on its tusks or tail. And if it's got a big trunk, let me search it. Side two really does worry me, too. To wit: (1) "I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself," never one of Bacharach-David's (or Warwick's) best songs. Once presaged Elvis Costello's own eternal descent into meaningless good taste. (2) "In the Cold Cold Night." Sung cold and detached, by Meg. Sounds merely spare and retro—not a big stretch from what's wrong with Adult Alternative Radio. You could imagine it on a Nick Hornby soundtrack; that's how "pure" it is. (3) "I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart." Ornate, dainty little chamber-room figure eights. Yet another forlorn bid for the Aimee/Norah/O Brother crowd, which I hope White Stripes get (though if Beck's mellow record didn't even get him there, good luck). Sitting in her backyard (see?!) for hours, and Mama baked a cake. A couple albums ago, Jack broke rules just so a cute classmate would notice him; now he's inclined to finish high school (and turn cartwheels) for the same reason. He wants to be the kind of guy who tries to win you over. (4) "You've Got Her in Your Pocket." Not as good a boy-to-boy advice song as "Don't Mug Yourself" by the Streets. Again, slow and atmospheric and trying hard to be romantic, not in an especially coherent way. Jack's fine writing about commitment issues, but even when he hits his generally convincing high register here, he never quite engages.

Two's a crowd.
Photo courtesy of Girlie Action
Two's a crowd.

He can be a real stick-in-the-mud, you know? At least when it's convenient for him. But then again, his conservative bent—his smelling a rat around little brats who disrespect their parents, his memories of elementary school as a warm safe place where as a child he'd hide, his know-nothing complaints about hip-hop being harmful to children and other living things—is frequently quite commendable; even comparable to the aggressively reactionary whiteness of punks back during disco. He can be a real sweetheart, too, as you might've noticed—in his old back-to-school songs, for instance, or that one where he told his little apple blossom to put her troubles in a little pile. And he's so straightforward, so unpoetic and vernacular in his language, and that's absolutely rare now. Elephant's finale is a jovially warmhearted, self-deprecating thing called "Well It's True That We Love One Another," where Holly Golightly of Brit post-pub cult heroines Thee Headcoatees calls him by his true name (shades of his fellow Detroit sometime-prude Marshall Mathers, who also knows that white blood sells): "I love Jack White like a little brother." Stuff about phone numbers written in the back of Bibles, and Meg sounding even more blank and bored up against Holly, which only makes it cuter when she confesses how Jack really bugs her. The song's jolly-good-cup-o'-tea coda is the sweetest way a Top 10 album has ended in, like, forever. And when Jack requests some English lovin', Holly says if she does that she'll have one in the oven. I'm expected, she's expecting. One's on the way.

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