All They Got Inside Is Vacancy: White Blood Cells Turns 20


The White Stripes – White Blood Cells

Released July 3rd, 2001 on Sympathy For The Record Industry / Third Man Records

Produced by Jack White

Peaked at #61 U.S., #55 U.K.


Hotel Yorba” (#26 U.K.)

Fell In Love With A Girl” (#12 U.S. Alt, #21 U.K.)

Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” (#19 U.S. Alt, #25 U.K.)

My friend Rod can attest to the fact that I didn’t think much of the White Stripes when I first heard them. That would have been on one of the late shows, god knows which one – Letterman, maybe, but more probably Leno – and it was near the end of my first year of university. I was in the RA’s dorm room, probably done up on a great deal of Jameson’s and a little bit lot of weed. Music was popping off at the time; Western culture was going through one of it’s periodic upheavals in sound and form, and this was the year of the Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, and the White Stripes. I was already somewhat familiar with the last band; my roommate Rob was a bona fide indie boi and he’d already played both the band’s debut and the more mature sophomore album De Stijl. When I saw the duo play “Fell In Love With A Girl” it felt too manic and chaotic to me; something about it really set me off, vocally. It wasn’t until That Video came out that I – and everybody else – sat up and took notice. “Hotel Yorba” had already come out in November but it was, devoid of context, twee and a little Too Indie – stuff the girl down the hall would listen to, the one who liked the Dead and Joni Mitchell and for some reason agreed to marry me four years later. “Fell In Love With A Girl”, heard somewhat more soberly on a studio recording, was a revelation. It’s the kind of song that, as Craig Finn would say, gets scratched into your soul. It was, for part of 2002, an anthem of sorts.

The rest of the album, though, delivered on the promise inherent in both of their previous albums. It kept up the exploration of riff and melody – and the blues fanboy structure and tone – of their second album, but doubled down on the raw, tube-amped, bass-less thump and pound of their debut. It was, in essence, a catalog of everything that made them great, before fame forged them into something bigger, and more cohesive. Sure, those later Stripes records sound great and hold together well, but the chaotic reel of White Blood Cells is the duo at their most charming. Jack White plays both the greasy, rat-tailed husband whose cuckoldry is legendary and also a tender-hearted young boy courting a schoolmate. It’s an album tailor-made for upheaval and transitional change; sometimes I feel as though the album had no choice but to come out in 2001. It’s like the 90s were too much derived from the smooth-sailing and good vibes of the end of the 80s and as such were too safe to bear the birth of such a gateway record.


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