Good Elephant

If the White Stripes have a problem, you can’t find it inside their latest CD. The album is a full-size, bull-rush of gorgeous distortion. If they have a problem, and I’m not sure they do, it’s on the outer cover. It’s Jack and Meg. They’re wearing red and white. There’s no bass. That’s peppermint. Jack’s got his own record label now. Are they related or what?

The last song on Elephant drolly addresses that question which occupied the nation’s garage rock trivia yen when the Stripes made national airwaves two years ago. Access Hollywood couldn’t answer it. Neither could Time Magazine. By now, we all now what’s up and I, for one, don’t really care. The fashion thing, some say, is wearing a little thin. Of course, the only reason this might matter is if you’re thinking about these people and all the television baggage when you’re listening to the music. That’s a phenomenon, I’m sure, not too uncommon these days, but totally unnecessary.

From the opening proclamation of “Seven Nation Army” to the wings of “There’s No Home For You Here” and right on through to the final gnarled, beach-blanket twist of “Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine” the music plain rocks. It handcuffs a thousand familiar sounds, from Zeppelin to MC5 to the AC/DC, and releases them in one mass jailbreak. It’s simply one of the greatest tribute albums ever not made by a tribute band… at least not yet. Admittedly, some riffs even sound lifted from other White Stripes albums, but it’s forgivable. The guitar work on “Ball and Biscuit” justifies every case of tinnitus and stupid-guitar-solo-face it spawns.

Ultimately, it’s fondness for the past prevents Elephant from treading any new ground. It won’t be mistaken for a modern masterpiece; it’s arena rock in the cellar. But who wants it any other way? People are putting racing stripes on their Kia Spectra’s and Dennis Miller is sounding like a neo-conservative. An album that is an escape from current times as opposed to a reflection of them is probably going to be more enjoyable for its efforts. The album is easy to love if you let yourself.

On a scale of listening devices, where transistor radios are a 1 and a DVD-Audio players are a 10, the new White Stripes rates an iPod, the numerical equivalent of an 8.5.