White Stripes’ focus was clearly blues played by a wild electric garage band. They deconstruct Led Zeppelin and Hendrix riffs to their most skeletal minimums and their sound might even be described as something like ‘Led Zeppelin for Stooges fans’. Delta blues electrified by a storm of distortion was 'cool' again, as were the Stripes looks, which were limited to white, red and black. it was understandable that the album was called De Stijl in honor of the Dutch artistic movement to which Mondrian belonged; just look at that wonderful cover. Of course the album was also dedicated to another person who knew a lot about art: Blind Willie McTell.
The blues were still the fundamental basis on which the White Stripes built, in their case many of their sound came from their hometown of Detroit, the motor city, with the MC5 and the Stooges, but also from Motown, Mitch Ryder and early Bob Seger. These were all references to an album that sees Jack White broaden his sights. You're Pretty Good Looking was pop candy that could have been sung by the Shangri-La's or the Ronettes, I'm Bound To Pack It Up, was a song that could have been written by Paul McCartney himself, and Truth Doesn't Make a Noise put a piano into an equation that, until that moment, had been dominated by a basic sound combination of guitar (mainly the mythical 64 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline), and drums.
The album opens with the aforementioned You're Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl) and one realizes that Jack and Meg White were ready to eat the world; in two minutes they produced a song that could appear next to the definition of ‘catchy’ in the dictionary. This pop facet grew in the following albums with songs like Fell In Love With A Girl or their version of Burt Bacharach's I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself. White was expanding their horizons, and fame was just around the corner.
But then the Hello Operator riff would start with Meg's monolithic drums behind and you knew this was something else, that here was someone listening to Led Zeppelin, at the same time as they were listening to the Stooges and the Beatles. A harmonica solo? Yes it is; the incredible thing is to listen to this record and think that in less than a year they were going to be one of the most popular bands on the planet. Little Bird is another stunner and is a perfect example of their primitive and garage blues rock, pure Delta blues, which goes with the rage and aggression of the Detroit bands. Listen to Meg's drums, which follows a similar rhythm to Phil Rudd in AC/DC and makes every little change stand out, meaning the song is given its rawest expression.
I'm Bound To Pack It Up is an acoustic wonder and shows another facet of the band, which is more intimate, and would become one of the band’s strengths. White shows that McCartney is as valid an influence as Son House on their music. Of course, speaking of one of the founding fathers of the blues, the White Stripes take their Death Letter and serve it up raw with White's '50s Kay Archtop (his favourite slide guitar) blazing. One could talk about this song as a clear reference for Elephant's fundamental Ball And Biscuit. Jimmy Page and Son House himself would surely give their blessing.
Sister, Do You Know My Name was recorded in a room and is full of warmth; it's a melodic and melancholic blues in which White brilliantly re-colours the song with the slide. For its part, Truth doesn't make a noise begins with an acoustic and then a great riff on the electric, and is one of the best songs on the album, with good incorporation of the piano, and shows that White was improving as a composer by leaps and bounds. The blues returns with A Boy's Best Friend, with a simmering start, again with the slide. It's a hypnotic and bewitching song.
Let's Build a Home is one of those wild tunes they were so fond of, raw blues with a distinctly punk spirit, and White's 1970s Crestwood Astral II has all its control knobs turned to the max. Jumble Jumble shares the same raw, unrefined spirit.
These are the band’s ‘most Stooge moments’, while Why can't you be nicer to me is built on a Hendrix riff, stripping it back to the very basics.
De Stijl is tangible proof that the White Stripes were, even if they didn't know it, ready to take the big leap from being a cult band to a giant band. 21st century rock still owes them a debt of gratitude.