From Ball to Biscuit: What Makes The White Stripes’ “Elephant” So Great?


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A Formidable Detroit Duo uprooted THe Genre of Rock as we now know it to be. This is: Elephant.

Now we’re a family and we’re all right now / We got money and a little place to fight now / We don’t know you and we don’t owe you / But if you see us around, I got something else to show you.

There was only two of them. But ever since the pair dropped Elephant, their fourth studio album in early ’03, they sounded like an army. Formerly playing a sibling gimmick for all smack-talk, the married partnership of Jack and Meg White brought in that raw garage-rock that helped define 21st Century Rock as the decade progressed. How did two people make such noise?

Now, twenty years later, we take a look at the monstrosity of Elephant. A how-to curation into creating arena-ready anthems – foretold by generations of sports fans expected to howl it for years to come – with Seven Nation Army, to blistering simplistic triumphs with The Hardest Button to Button to the 7-minute seduction of Ball To Biscuit; an effort charred with classic White-blues riffage and a solo for the ages; this album has everything you could possibly need from your usual run-of-the-mill rock.

Hell, the chug-chug ferocity of Black Math is enough to be a standalone single on its own, never mind it following after Seven Nation Army..

Recorded in less than two weeks in a vintage London shell-studio at Toe Rag, 2003’s Elephant explores “the death of the sweetheart,” the “white ivory shimmering laugh” absent from the anger – as real love is lost at the expense of cheap thrills.

Too poetically inducing for a stalwart rock album on its album that may be, but it’s not like The White Stripes are ever shy of blazoning their work with passionate strokes of art. With the Dutch movement of De Stijl proving to be an influence as any musician on their work, their stylisation of black, white and red simply broadened their creativity and undoubtedly brought many established concepts to a garishly “simple” approach to music. At first sight, It was simplistic. Closer look through the lens, it was simplistic beauty.

Needless to say, this album isn’t just four-to-the-floor thwompers with little thought. It has such beautiful moments tucked away in there too. Like the ballad-y blues number of You’ve Got Her In Your Pocket, which was no doubt inspired by the Delta dynamo of Son House, a prolific artist actively known to have influence White’s string work. Even their version of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself, is both familiar and original, no doubt the catalyst for prior We’re Going To Be Friends on 2002’s White Blood Cells.

A back-to-basics approach was the duos’ bread and butter and Elephant was certainly no different. From a production perspective, the use of pre-1960s recording gear brought about an eccentric style to Jack’s songwriting perfecting very much a “rough-and-ready rock album”, like the good old days: “No computers were used during the writing, recording, mixing, or mastering of this record” – the linear notes bare all. The fuzzy mess of Little Acorns just shows the extent of the traditional mixing workings-out to music…

Critical acclaim wise? The album scooped up a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Album, aswell as Seven Nation Army claiming the top spot for Best Rock Song that same year.

Elephant: Trunk full of Noise Nonsense, BELLY full of assurance.

While many garage-rock revivalists fell off as the mid-2000s brought about softer overtones of rocks’ cousin, White Stripes had an enduring presence that had them kept going into the depths of the 2010s – all thanks to the assurance of Elephant, catapulting them to rockin’ heights. Still to this day, twenty years later, it holds up.

2 responses to “From Ball to Biscuit: What Makes The White Stripes’ “Elephant” So Great?”

  1. Experience Film avatar
    Experience Film

    Listening right now🎸💥🤘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. manvmusic avatar

      Cor, you’re in for a treat, it’s a corker x

      Liked by 2 people

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