The White Stripes ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ – Review

15 Mar

(Note: This is a review of the CD, not the film – which I’ve heard is great but haven’t got round to watching yet)

The sooner Jack White realizes that people don’t care about The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather or any other solo album or side project the better. Sure, ‘Steady as she Goes’ was a great single, and both Raconteurs album had their moments but Jack White operates best when he is thrashing his guitar with the help of his ‘big sister’ Meg. He’s doing no-one any favours by flooding the market with so-so albums when he could be making the follow-up to ‘Icky Thump’. The Dead Weather are good enough but The White Stripes are one of the best groups around, and ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ reminds you why.

This is a live album made up of the best moments from the band’s most recent Canadian tour. It begins in spectacular style with a frantic version of their debut 7 inch ‘Let’s Shake Hands’. If any song represents what the band do best then it is this, complete energy, rawness, feedback and shouting. Things don’t slow down much for a stand out track from ‘Elephant’, ‘Black Math’ which is in turn followed by one of their more unusual songs, ‘Little Ghost’, and live favourite ‘Blue Orchid.’ Meg can barely control her pace, and Jack stumbles along with her in brilliant style. They have always understood that the flaws in rock n roll are more important than making everything sound neat and tidy. If you are lucky enough to see White Stripes more than once then you will know that you never get the same experience twice.

It’s not a perfect live album by any stretch of the imagination, many of the band’s best songs are notable by their absence – ‘Hotel Yorba’, ‘The Hardest Button to Button’, ‘Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground’ and ‘My Doorbell’  are all missing. They don’t do any favours to ‘Fell in Love With a Girl’ either by slowing it down to half pace, and the album lulls a bit in the middle as they run through album tracks. despite this ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ is pretty consistent throughout although not everything can match ‘Lets Shake Hands’ for sheer brilliance.

You know exactly what you’re getting with a White Stripes album – stripped down manic blues rock that could have just as easily been released 40 years ago. I was hoping for something a bit more unique from this live album but there are few surprises – The album begins with bagpipes but this is as weird as the disc ever gets. Even talking is kept to a minimum as the emphasis is placed on the songs rather than showmanship. That does make it difficult to understand quite what the appeal of this album is, afterall most White Stripes albums are recorded live anyway. The songs have been cherry picked from an entire tour so this doesn’t accurately represent a White Stripes show nor are the songs selected greatest hits, rather this is a strange collection of early singles, album tracks, a cover and a few usual contenders. I guess you could argue that the album is just plain fun, and that is enough to justify it’s release.

As a whole ‘Under White Northern Lights’ is a great listening experience but it falls short of classic live album status as it lacks anything truly magical or unique. I can’t help but feel the band have a better live record in them than this but until that (or a greatest hits) come along then this will do as a pretty good summary of a great band’s output.

8/10

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One Response to “The White Stripes ‘Under Great White Northern Lights’ – Review”

  1. Lyle Hopwood March 16, 2010 at 3:25 am #

    “The sooner Jack White realizes that people don’t care about The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather or any other solo album or side project the better.”

    Um, no.

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