The White Stripes: Greatest Hits review – rowdy gathering of rock, roll and everything in between

Fri, Dec 4, 2020, 06:00


The White Stripes Greatest Hits

The White Stripes

Sony Music Legacy/Third Man Records


Every great band with great fans, notes Jack White, should have a Greatest Hits album. And so the first compilation of The White Stripes is issued, but the hand-picked songs here might give the wrong impression. Confirming that is the placing of the group’s best-known song, Seven Nation Army, at the end of the 26-track album. In other words, where others choose to turn, Jack and Meg White choose to twist.

It was always so. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1999, and its 2000 follow-up De Stijl laid out a template that other guitar/vocals/drums duos would replicate with more brute force but never better: a powerful DIY fusion of country, blues, guitar-heavy rock and lean punk. Originals in this style were placed beside covers of songs by Robert Johnson, Son House, Bob Dylan and Blind Willie McTell.

Their backstory also zigged and zagged: Jack and Meg were married but positioned themselves to the media as siblings so as to steer off at the pass personal questions they each considered redundant. (For reasons best known to themselves, the official press release for this collection describes the pair as “brother and sister”.)

Whatever about the fabrication of their personal lives (together and apart – they divorced a few months after the release of De Stijl), there was legitimacy in the music, displayed here in blunt daubs of black, white and red.

Minimum of fuss

Everything here lays out, with a typical minimum of fuss, their low-fidelity aesthetic: from Ball and Biscuit, Let’s Shake Hands and The Big Three Killed My Baby to Fell in Love with a Girl, The Hardest Button to Button and I Fight Piranhas, the simplicity of the songs are balanced by the nerve of the presentation.

You’d be hard-pressed to imagine how two musicians could manage the feat of making music that delivered the fluidity of Jimi Hendrix, the vigour of Led Zeppelin and the compacted history of blues/country in one complete, combustible package. And complete it was, too – Jack may have been the obvious hair-flopping guitar-hero focal point, but Meg’s drumming corrals much of the music.

Balancing the blues/rock dynamic was another, somewhat less-heralded side of The White Stripes: the calm, honest sweetness of their acoustic songs, represented here, oddly it must be said, by a mere two tracks – We’re Going to Be Friends and a cover of the Bacharach/David song I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself.

Perhaps an all-acoustic collection is forthcoming. In the meantime, console/engage yourself with a rowdy gathering of rock, roll and everything in between.