An Ode to the Quieter White Stripe
In March, Jack White released his third solo album, Boarding House Reach. Backed by a fleet of session musicians, White mixes his signature garage rock and blues with funk, electronic music and hip-hop. It’s fascinating, but like each of his projects since The White Stripes disbanded in 2011, it makes me miss his best collaborator, drummer/ex-wife Meg White.
When Jack touches down at Comerica Theater on August 22, he’ll bring a stunning backing band in tow, but all the proficiency only underscores their lack of dynamic. Meg pushed Jack in important ways, and she helped the duo stand out in the flood of garage rock Johnny-come-latelies in the 2000s.
Popular criticism of Meg alleges she’s a “bad” drummer. But many luminaries, from Questlove to Dave Grohl, argue against that. Check the subtle push/pull of “The Hardest Button to Button,” or the thump of “Seven Nation Army.” Meg plays like a Neil Young two-note guitar solo transcribed for a drum kit. Anything lacking in technique is made up for in feeling.
What’s more, Meg made Jack actually listen, tempering his guitar hero tendencies. She was his foil, whose choices, and even limitations, pushed him into more creative territory. Consider former Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony’s plodding basslines undergirding guitarist Eddie Van Halen’s symphonic bombast; Pigpen’s careening blues organ on early Grateful Dead recordings; or how Nico’s deadpan vocals bring a chilly Germanic sheen to the Velvet Underground’s overheated New York rock. It’s not about perfection, it’s about contrast.
On Boarding House Reach, it’s impossible not to miss what Jack’s lacking: the kinetic energy he shared with Meg. But whether the Stripes ever reunite, White needs a creative partner who brings as much of him or herself to the studio as he does. Meg’s seemingly retired, but surely YouTube viral sensation “drummer at the wrong gig” isn’t too busy to swing by the sessions for Jack’s next album?