10. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards (2010)
Runtime: 35:12 (11 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: White holds a near-perfect record for delivering exhilarating openings, hooking listeners in for the entirety of the album. “Blue Blood Blues”, one of White’s few lead vocals on Sea of Cowards, is no different. Jack Lawrence’s fuzzy bass riff combined with Dean Fertita’s slicing guitar work sets the album’s snarling tone from the get-go while White wails the blues (“When you give me the task/ Leave me broke and shirtless”). As the track evolves, gospel vocals pan and tremble eerily in the background, giving the track a haunted brilliance.
“Bored Rotten”: Sea of Cowards would have done well to end on the blistering jam track “Jawbreaker”, What follows on “Old Mary” is unsettling, which to be fair, fits the record’s modus operandi. However, White’s spoken-word delivery combined with creepy baby laughs, electronic squeaks, and fiddle squeals is too jarring of a switch to feel satisfying as an album closer.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: One of the creepiest videos in White’s filmography, “Die by the Drop” fully embraces The Dead Weather’s goth aesthetic as White and Alison Mosshart exchange vows of “I’m gonna take you for worse or better/ To my little grave.” Shattered mirrors, strange masks, and dark magic blacken White’s third collaboration with Floria Sigismondi (who unsurprisingly directed Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People”). The normal and paranormal collide throughout the video as the song’s occultists seek to alter and destroy what we perceive as reality. If you’re looking for a haunting music video to play at your next Halloween party, look no further.
“It Bears Repeating”: “To be afraid is a luxury/ So cool your engines for me/ I don’t want a sweetheart/ I want a machine” — “Gasoline”
“Shut Up and Learn”: The Dead Weather’s second record lands atop their trilogy on our list. While the supergroup’s gritty, swampy approach to garage rock has always been enticing, it never quite matched the impact of White’s other projects. Admittedly, The Dead Weather’s appeal tends to be more niche, and Sea of Cowards captures White’s darker, heavier leanings better than anywhere else. The ride is worth taking as the quartet’s jams sonically transport listeners to a haunted cabin in the Mississippi delta for 35 minutes of unnerving and suspenseful blues rock.
09. The White Stripes – Icky Thump (2007)
Runtime: 47:44 (13 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” treats us to a band that feels comfortable with their broken-in, rustic sound again. It’s apparent with the track’s 12-bar that burns slowly and seesaws as the song builds and builds. Jack White builds monuments through sound, which is most showcased on “300” and adds to making Icky Thump the loudest White Stripes record. The tones are aggressively tweaked, the guitars are in overdrive in the best possible way, and White’s gritty back-porch vocals are highlighted.
“Bored Rotten”: Let’s be honest: Jack White is less of a songwriter and more of musical architect. His greatest songs aren’t his greatest because they’re seemingly profound or stand for something. No, his songs are the greatest because of how enticing the constructions of them are. On this record, though, his cover of Pattie Page’s “Conquest” is one place where this album comes up slightly short. The anti-sexest jump blues tune is bizarrely reconstructed as a flamenco mariachi-styled song that’s just drowned in vibrato and melisma.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: The video for “Icky Thump”, co-directed by Jack White and the Malloy Brothers is set to be in Mexico and features Spanish subtitles acting as translation of the song’s lyrics. Shot in high resolution and contrast, the overall aesthetics of the video fit the songs and album perfectly. The video, like these White Stripes, is a return to a grainy and rigid aesthetic. Everything about the video is very White Stripes — in that it’s raw, authentic, and kinda dirty.
“It Bears Repeating”: “White Americans/ What, nothin’ better to do?/ Why don’t you kick yourself out?/ You’re an immigrant, too/ Who’s usin’ who?/ What should we do?/ Well, you can’t be a pimp/ And a prostitute, too.” – “Icky Thump”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Icky Thump remains the final White Stripes album for now. It came to fruition after the band’s hiatus in 2006 when Jack White took a break to make room for his Midwestern friends in The Raconteurs. The record, for all intents and purposes, was a return to the raw, back-to-basic guitar and drum sound that was so heavily associated with the band, which is one reason it surpassed its predecessor, Get Behind Me Satan, in the eyes of most fans. Recorded in a three-week stretch, it stands as a resurrection of the band’s sound and aesthetic — slimy garage-rock blues, a peppered-in cover, and, of course, offbeat spoken-word bits all woven together with shameless nods to Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin — and a satisfying-enough closure to The White Stripes chapter of Jack White’s career.
08. Jack White – Lazaretto (2014)
Runtime: 39:13 (11 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: Easily the most grandiose song on the record, “Would You Fight for My Love?” is the densest, fullest, and loudest track on the album, highlighting a new Jack White sound that is vastly different than any White Stripes song. The song opens with a muted, eerie hum that transcends into an anthemic ballad. There’s spine-chilling bass with a bridge that seems to be scoring a horror film, complete with ominous vocals, and makes the entire track embrace a newly found, unhinged, almost maniacal approach to White’s music.
“Bored Rotten”: On “Entitlement”, White simultaneously plays rebel and crotchety old man. He rages against conformity in one scene and essentially yells at teens to get off his lawn the next. It’s the track that highlights where the album doesn’t fit together fluidly, though, that might be the point.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: Directed by Jonas & Francois, the music for the title track’s chaotic groove is paired with an equally batty music video. The black-and-white video opens with a guitar pick shredding through shards of glass and just gets even more wild from there. There’s assault-by-baseballs, broken glass, snakes, a raging bull, and even some random guy’s chest tattoo featuring the Lazaretto album artwork. It’s mayhem, and it’s incredible.
“It Bears Repeating”: “And even God Herself has fewer plans than me/ But she never helps me out with my scams for free, though/ She grabs a stick and then she points it at me/ When I say nothing, I say everything.” — “Lazaretto”
“Shut Up and Learn”: If The White Stripes were the embrace of minimalism, Lazaretto is the record that makes every other Jack White project seem angular in comparison. The record is a collision of pedal steel, rambunctious piano, some folksy strumming, even some rock-rapping, and, of course, the tenacious bustle of Jack White’s guitar playing. Lazaretto is Jack White reverting to his ideal blues rock as a way to emotionally confess. It’s a safe place to explore and project feelings in the re-enactment of age-old story lines.
07. Jack White – Boarding House Reach (2018)
Runtime: 44:07 (13 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: For 13 years, “Over and Over and Over” eluded White as he attempted to work it into projects with The White Stripes and Raconteurs (and even his canceled collaborative project with Jay-Z). Though sitting on an idea for that long heightens the risk of anticlimax when finally released, in this case, the wait was well worth it. The opening heavy guitar riff (one of White’s best ever) drives the song forward as he identifies with the mythical Sisyphus, doomed to eternally roll a boulder up a mountain to no avail. White projects his anxiety onto the listener, weaving high-pitched screams with haunting gospel choirs and rapid percussive breakdowns, while never losing the song’s booming groove.
“Bored Rotten”: “Hypermisophoniac”, a fancy word meaning “extreme hatred of sound,” is an odd thing to name a song. In fact, it’s akin to opening a burger joint called “Repulsive Food.” The song’s unsettling combination of straightforward rock and intentionally annoying sound collage is a head scratcher. While not uninteresting, White’s experimentation on “Hypermisophoniac” ventures too far to be enjoyable, especially with the perpetually oscillating synth overpowering the song’s mix.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: Not often is a music video able to capture cinematic suspense as well as director Jodeb does in “Corporation”. The seven-minute short film plays like a murder mystery from Agatha Christie or, perhaps, the Coen Brothers with White starring as the victim. White’s call of “Who’s with me?” echoes in the background as the film portrays the suspects’ supposed alibis. Things turn sinister, however, as the detective discovers the suspects belong to a cult led by White (who isn’t dead). The disturbing film (as well as the song’s lyrics) seems to caution against the power of organized identity, whether it be religious, corporate, or political.
“It Bears Repeating”: “Everyone creating is a member of the family/ Passing down genes and ideas in harmony/ The players and the cynics might be thinking it’s odd/ But if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying god” — “Ice Station Zebra”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Boarding House Reach is Jack White at his most experimental, pushing the boundaries of rock and roll at a time he believes the genre needs “a new injection of some sort of punk attitude.” Though White hoped “new, young blood” would fuel rock’s resurgence, here, he takes matters into his own hands. White plays around with hip-hop, gospel, sound collage, spoken word, congos, synthesizers, and so much more as he spews punk cynicism about consumerism, big business, and free thought. Yet, for all its diversity, Boarding House Reach is rock and roll through and through and will age well as time passes.
06. The Raconteurs – Consolers of the Lonely (2008)
Runtime: 55:30 (14 tracks)
“They’re Gonna Rip It Off”: You don’t need The Raconteurs to tell you that life has its ups and downs, but “Old Enough” is a particularly empowering reminder of how to deal with this roller coaster. The bittersweet acoustic strums and vocals from Brendan Benson (“You look pretty in your fancy dress/ But I detect unhappiness”) lead into a parade of adages, divine strings and guitar noodling, both electric and acoustic, as well as potent mentoring from White. It’s not exactly a subtle song, but The Raconteurs are at their best when they’re just letting the truths fly right out, hopefully landing on whoever needs to hear them the most.
“Bored Rotten”: “Top Yourself” is a decent tune. The tone and White’s terse delivery could easily fit in on De Stijl. It might have been a relative standout on the lackluster Broken Boy Soldiers, but given how much The Raconteurs raise their personal bar on their sophomore effort, it gets a bit lost in the shuffle. By no means should you skip this one during a Consolers listening session, but White and the rest of the band show elsewhere they’re definitely capable of “topping” this one.
“The Eyes Were Peeping”: You know how it goes. You go into the woods with your bandmates to play a tune and all of a sudden there’s three versions of everyone. But the “Old Enough” video isn’t The Raconteurs doing their take on Us, years before that film’s release. The band plays in total cooperation with their doppelgangers, lending to the song’s upliftment by teaching an invaluable lesson about the importance of working with yourself, rather than against.
“It Bears Repeating”: “I find myself just looking well beyond my best intentions, ignoring any kinda applause I might receive at all/ All others seem to find a road that’s tough to satisfaction/ I find a ridicule that isn’t cool for me at all” – “Salute Your Solution”
“Shut Up and Learn”: Consolers of the Lonely should not be this good. It acts as a corrective for the tepidness that brought down The Raconteurs’ debut while strengthening the aspects that worked, like the wide range of inspirations and White’s chemistry with Benson. Everything just sounds tighter and better, and the band’s ability to spin a yarn on outlaw saga “The Switch and the Spur” and Southern Gothic ballad closer “Carolina Drama” show that they take their band name seriously. It’s the kind of an album that anyone who craves “some good, old-fashioned rock” should salivate over.