If there’s a more ubiquitous seven notes in modern music than the simple riff that runs throughout ‘Elephant’ opener ‘Seven Nation Army’ then… well, frankly there just isn’t. Your grandma can hum it. Your Uncle Keith has yelled it from the football terraces, and it’s probably the first thing that 90% of under-25s painstakingly plucked upon picking up a guitar. Now, ‘Seven Nation Army’ is almost the commercial albatross in Jack and Meg’s canon – the beery singalong that no hardcore White Stripes fan would ever dare put in their Top Three. But at the time of its release, the band were only just starting to settle into the arms of proper capital ‘S’ success.
With their self-titled 1999 debut and 2000’s follow-up ‘De Stijl’, the Detroit brother/sister/husband/wife/whatever duo were a couple of young blues-infatuated weirdos, hovering on the peripheries. Interspersing their two-minute blasts of howling garage with covers of old rootsy standards by Blind Willie McTell and the like, it wasn’t until 2001’s ‘White Blood Cells’ that the Whites really started grappling with the mainstream. From that record came the rollocking hoe-down of ‘Hotel Yorba’ and the game-changing spit of ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’, and with it the world’s eyes turned upon the pair as the raw embodiment of primitive, untameable rock music. The accolades started to pour in: MTV Awards, top end Album of the Year rankings, superlative reviews across the board.
It was a record that subtly accepted the challenge of the big time without giving up any identity.
So it was with not inconsiderable anticipation that ‘Elephant’ arrived in April 2003. The band’s major label debut, it would either cement their burgeoning status as a band of vitally thrilling importance or kill the momentum dead. Of course, with the duo now canonised as one of indie’s all-time finest, we know which way that particular pendulum swung. From the histrionic fizz of ‘Black Math’ to the spoken word monologue of ‘Little Acorns’; the low-slung, scuzzy ‘Ball And Biscuit’ to the final, tongue-in-cheek schoolyard sing-song of ‘It’s True That We Love One Another’, ‘Elephant’ took all the idiosyncratic oddities from their early records and beefed them up without losing any of their sparkle.
It was a record that subtly accepted the challenge of the big time without giving up any identity, instead heralding a new generation of blues-indebted followers, all trying to capture a sliver of the easy magic that Jack and Meg’s potent musical rapport dished up without even trying. Oh yeah, and it gave them quite a big hit single too.
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