The White Stripes
The Stripes’ mission statement demands that records be spontaneous, rough and off-the-cuff. With that credo, the duo’s minimalist music translates easily into a live album. Or perhaps a redundant one. But on Northern Lights, Jack White attacks his main act’s three-ingredient material with greater animal ferocity, resulting in a smoking slab of rock & roll that’s as punk as rusty safety pins, heavier than armored hippos and something close to a definitive statement.
After opening with their thrashy debut single, “Let’s Shake Hands,” Meg and Jack rip through both hits and curios from their catalog. The set list jumps from early, sloppy garage-blues smashes to recent, weirder forays into prog and Scottish folk, complete with bagpipe and mandolin. White’s gargantuan guitar chords are not so much inflated as magnified.
The scale allows every nuance and detail that the purist squeezes from his dime-store instruments—the grains of grit and vibrating cilia of feedback—to tickle your eardrums. The white-hot soloing in “Icky Thump” squeals like a short-circuiting Stylophone, while the organ of “I’m Slowly Turning into You” hums with the teeth-rattling sensation of a power station. It’s still remarkable how much variety and noise the twosome can milk from such limitations.
White, an aesthete of electric-guitar noise, has long believed that restrictions (a strict two-tone wardrobe, Meg White’s limited talent, thrift-store equipment, living in Detroit) foster creativity. Recording these exhilarating tracks exclusively in Canada matters little to the ears but does make for stunning, wintry vistas for the accompanying DVD. When the good-natured Canucks cheerily chant along to “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself,” it’s as much an open-armed invite to head north as cute Olympic mascots and comprehensive health care are.