I liked the White Stripes from the first time I heard “Fell In Love With A Girl,” back in 2002. Remember what rock was like back then? Everything had gotten so slick and pretty in the 90s, and then along came bands like The Strokes and the White Stripes, and injected some badly-needed energy, enthusiasm, and a dose of lo-fi, DIY attitude.
I remember being surprised to learn that the band, which had the classic sound of a garage-rock quartet, was actually just two people. Jack and Meg White were, they claimed, brother and sister, although rumor had it that they were actually a divorced couple. In this case, the rumor mill was spot on.
Anyway, “Fell In Love With A Girl” made waves on its own merit – but then came the video, made by the up-and-coming filmmaker Michel Gondry out of Lego animation. Remember what music videos were like back then? This was the most interesting video I’d seen in years – simple, straightforward, but brilliantly done.
The real-life Jack and Meg were fun to watch too. Decked out in bright red, white and black, they looked like candy canes come to life. And when they played live, there was no questioning whether they needed a bass player, or anyone else. Their version of “Seven Nation Army” (still their greatest song) onstage at the 2004 Grammy Awards might be the most incendiary performance I’ve ever seen on live TV.
The band began to experiment in its later albums, with mixed results. I liked some of Get Behind Me Satan – with its keyboards and marimbas, it didn’t really sound like a White Stripes album, but I give them points for moving beyond their comfort zone. Their last album, 2007’s Icky Thump, was hailed as a return to their blues-rock roots. It sold well, and the critics liked it. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Maybe because it felt like a retrenchment, or a retreat.
After Icky Thump, there were no more records, but I didn’t miss the White Stripes. And it seemed like Jack didn’t either. He has been ubiquitous since then, with his other bands, Dead Weather and the Raconteurs, and his production work. So the announcement of the band’s retirement wasn’t really a surprise; that handwriting had been on the wall for some time. But it’s a good excuse to remember how big an impact they had on a moribund rock world 10 years ago. They don’t need to make and remake The White Stripes sound for another ten years; they’ve done enough. To borrow from one of those great old blues songs that Jack and Meg have always been so fond of, “Praise God I’m Satisfied.”