Anniverseries: The White Stripes - De Stijl

A cult album not as well known by the masses even 20 years on, but one which laid the foundations for the band’s refreshingly raw sound and was an undoubted crucial cornerstone in Jack White's musical career.
Posted: 20 June 2020 Words: Ellis Maddison

When picturing The White Stripes, it’s difficult not to envisage the slightly haunting, Tim Burton-esque music videos for ‘Icky Thump’ and ‘Blue Orchid’ that were solidified in Kerrang and MTV’s top ten rock charts year after year. These hits, and the unmistakable ‘Seven Nation Army’ (subsequently, and oddly adopted by DJs and football fans from all over the world), has seen The White Stripes establish themselves as one of the top rock duos of all time. At the turn of the century, before Meg was industry-renowned for her relentless use of crash cymbals and Jack for his iconic, grunge-y guitar riffs, The White Stripes released De Stijl: a cult album not as well known by the masses, but one which laid the foundations for the band’s refreshingly raw sound. 

With six White Stripes records, side projects with The Raconteurs and countless hit solo releases, Jack White has etched his name into the book of great rock guitarists alongside the likes of Jimmy Page and Keith Richards. Typically clad in jet black from head to foot, Jack has grown up as rock’s favourite emo-kid. The frontman only finds colourful respite from his dark attire when appearing next to Meg in the blood red uniform of The White Stripes, in which the duo never fails to emit a massive sound.

20 years after the release of De Stijlthe band’s second album embraces a vast plethora of classic rock conventions that many modern-day records cannot, while it clearly holds many of the secrets behind The White Stripes’ success over the decades. ‘Apple Blossom’ is an uncanny nod to The Beatles, while Jack’s bluesy fretwork in ‘Little Bird’ and ‘Death Letter’ could easily be heard in any backstreet bar in 60’s New Orleans. In ‘Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise’, the riffs and tambourines are right out of a soundtrack for a western film, proving De Stijl’s ability to create an array of nostalgic imagery.

The album also caters to the classic rock fan through ‘Hello Operator’ and ‘Let’s Build A Home’, where Meg’s unfaltering drums punctuate every guitar note to bring that extra punch. Her slowed tempo beat and Jack’s melancholic vocals in ‘Sister Do You Know My Name’ shows that the duo were just as proficient in soft-rock lullabies as they were in fast-paced, cymbal-heavy rock anthems. By intentionally leaving in the bleed from guitar amps and fuzz from the snare drum in the recordings of numerous tracks, De Stijl undoubtedly helped pave the way for what has since become a symbolic trademark of The White Stripes’ bare, unfiltered approach to music. 

De Stijl exemplified the brilliant chemistry between two emerging musicians capable of covering a wide range of classic rock genres whilst simultaneously showcasing their own, recognisable style. For any fans of The White Stripes, or any modern rock record, this collection of tunes is an education in the art of visual storytelling and simplicity done very well. 

A 20th anniversary re-release of De Stijl including never before heard material is now released via Third Man Records.

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