After years of coming and going, the magic is over: Jack and Meg White have announced their split. (not marriage-wise, of course, that happened years ago.)
Formed in 1997, “brother & sister” duo (can you believe that the lie lasted so long?), the White Stripes, released six studio albums in their time together, as well as two DVDs, a live album and dozens of bootlegs.
The impact the band had on the music scene at the turn of the cenutry cannot be undertstated: nu-metal was running rife, that awful 90s dance craze hadn’t quite been stamped out, and the saviours of guitar music were most likely going to be the Datsuns. That all changed with the appearence of this engimatic, enthralling duo on English shores in 2001 in support of the release of album number three, ‘White Blood Cells’.
A seminal guitar rock album, ‘White Blood Cells’ can be pinpointed as the one that changed it all. In the period since, we had the dominance of guitar rock: the Strokes to the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys to the Kings of Leon… Without the White Stripes, it would all have been oh-so different.
2003 marked the height of the band’s success with the spectacular riff-driven, “Seven Nation Army”, taken from the bands fourth album ‘Elephant’. The album marked the beginnings of a transition for the band. It contained more ballad style tracks than we’d come to expect from the band, a factor that also dominated the band’s subsequent album, “Get Behind Me Satan”.
“Get Behind Me Satan” contained as many piano based tracks as it did guitar ones, while it also made wonderful use of the xylophone on ‘The Nurse’. When “Icky Thump” landed in 2007, the transition was complete. Bagpipes, marimbas, mariachis, horns… It was like listening to a different band.
However, despite this transition, the music retained its true strength: the total bluesy simplicity. Often criticised for her drumming, Meg White was at the core of this simplicity. She was employed to keep a beat, a rhythm, that allowed Jack and his guitar/piano/vocals take control. The duo complemented eachother perfectly.
The raw energy of the live performances was partially captured in last years CD/DVD release, “Under Great White Northern Lights”, recorded in Canada in 2007. However, more than this famed live prescene, the DVD captured Meg’s descent into anxiety. A bitterly cruel last sequence, in particular, documented this as she breaks into tears as Jack sits alongside her playing ‘White Moon’ on the piano.
Originally intended as a simple tour document, the film has become an epitaph for the band. Luckily, we are told, Meg has overcome her battle with anxiety that resulted in the cancellation of the bands UK tour in 2007, though we will still be left with the startling image of her sitting, tears flowing, as Jack simply kept playing.
The band have claimed that the split is designed to preserve their art, but it seems more likely that the relationship simply became too much to bear.
Whatever the reasoning behind the split, it is a heavy loss for music. Jack has continued to work avidly (the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, Loretta Lynn, Laura Marling, Wanda Jackson, Alicia Keys) in the industry, yet none of his projects have managed to capture his energy, his personality, his mystique in the manner that the White Stripes did.
Sadly, we will be left wanting for his true genius to shimmer through again. Here’s to a reunion…