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Love Will Tear Us Apart

The White Stripes
Elephant (V2/BMG)

‘This album is dedicated to, and is for, and about the death of the sweetheart,” the White Stripes claim in the liner notes of this latest omnibus of concussive, thinking man’s music. Some have labeled the disc “dreary” or “not as good as White Blood Cells,” but you know Elephant is not too shabby for a couple of walking bizarro J. Crew poster waifs. Even if it is all over the map musically—I mean really, you get everything from power-pop crackerjacks to dinner music—the messages kind of get under your skin after a bit, like a smelly old cat you can’t help feeding, and it can’t help leaving dead birds on your porch.

I guess I’ll never fully understand the aesthetic behind not having a bass player (although the duo bend to that mother of necessity on occasion). I don’t care if it’s an open-faced defiance to a half-century of rock tradition. Nor do I care if the intelligentsia sees it as the next logical step in the psycho-psionic stripping down of said genre and all its little satellite apothecaries. It also doesn’t matter if they just want to keep all the money for themselves; I don’t like the idea and I never will. I need bass, dammit, the sex maker, the overwhelming undertow, the hum of guilt.

Nonetheless, beneath the veneer of Jack White’s Spin-magazine cuteness is one mammoth, ripping guitarist. Not to be underestimated, whether it be the tenacious thrum of “Black Math” or the smoking blues whale calls in the seven-minute “Ball and Biscuit.” One can also unabashedly slam Meg White’s elementary drumming as exactly thus, while others will be quick to point to such unschooled bashing as one of the touchstones of good rock—but both miss the point. Rather, what is interesting about Meg White is her phrasing. After all, with only two instruments doing the work, these percussive bursts need to mean more. They need to become swollen with the respiration of each song, and she is able to resist the temptation to add that extra downbeat that, by nature, every drummer hears. She does this remarkably well, sometimes acknowledging the authenticity of the beat by playing nothing at all.

It is hard to discern whether the Stripes are looking to throw stones or cast out their own demons. “I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother’s Heart” is a refreshingly realistic assessment of the mom crush; it sounds pitiful, as opposed to gratifying. “Seven Nation Army” purposefully exaggerates the drama of the breakup, but despite reading sarcasm into the text, the listener is touched in a cold, weird place. The painfully blunt “There’s No Home for You Here” seems harmless enough, until you think it through to its misogynistic ends (the protagonist clearly has hunted the girl like game and had his meal, and now cannot tolerate her seemingly insignificant but somehow insidiously annoying habits). A hilariously grating Queenlike chorus drives his point home. The flirtatious “It’s True That We Love One Another” is a knock on the threesome concept (courtesy U.K. garage-pop mistress Holly Golightly), one that rightfully puts the ridiculous concept in its rightful place among chat-room sex addicts and AVS Porn Convention aficionados. Anyway, at the very least it’s a cool CD for those who still pine for music recorded to eight-track, without the use of Cakewalk. Getting rarer and rarer, kiddies.

—Bill Ketzer

Paul Westerberg
Come Feel Me Tremble (Vagrant)

Grandpaboy
Dead Man Shake (Anti/Fat Possum)

Come Feel Me Tremble is a sharp rock record timed to coincide with the release of a DVD/movie of the same name. It features Westerberg in full rock mode, from the OxyContin drive of “Hillbilly Junk” to the Stonesy “Pine Box” and the retro, catchy “Wild & Lethal.” Westerberg is singing righteously and energizing better here; though the 14 tunes evoke the eclecticism of the long-lost and -lamented Replacements, the sound is as unified as the attitude. Even the pretty “Meet Me Down the Alley,” a ballad, for chrissakes, fits in.

That same drive permeates Dead Man Shake, the second installment by Westerberg’s faux-primitive alter ego, Grandpaboy. Again, drugs are a leitmotif, as in the scary “O.D. Blues,” and overall, Westerberg’s blues-boy persona has an eye on the graveyard. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of raunch & roll here, too, particularly in the title track, the eerie “Vampires & Failures” (has our boy been listening to the Cramps?), and the Jimmy Reed-styled “Take Out Some Insurance.” A ballad caps this one, too: a quavery take on the old “What Kind of Fool Am I?” (A wise one, apparently.)

Word is Westerberg’s next release, Folker, due out in March, will be his “official” new CD. If that’s true, these two discs are hellaciously strong interim product—and a hard act to follow.

—Carlo Wolff

The Raveonettes
Chain Gang of Love (Columbia)

Those guitar-crazed Danes, Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo, are back, and in a much zippier mood than when last we heard from them. The Raveonettes’ first album, Whip It On, was, by calculated plan, entirely in B-flat minor. The result was dark, shiny guitar-noise pop music. Chain Gang of Love, however, is entirely in B major. The result is bright, shiny guitar-noise music.

Could you possibly be thinking it’s all just a gimmick? Well, you’re right and wrong. Yes, it’s contrived. In the case of the Raveonettes, however, gimmicks are good. Don’t hate them because they’re clever—it would be like hating them for being so glamorous and European. (All right, you can hate them for the latter.) After all, their sonic forefathers, the Jesus & Mary Chain, worked that gloomy-Scotsmen bit for all it was worth, and it didn’t get in the way of their noise experiments.

The sound may be happier, but the song textures are even more fleshed-out than on the sonically dense Whip It On. For example, “Love Can Destroy Everything” deftly mixes satellite beeps into the chimelike layers of guitar sounds without being distracting or annoying. Plus, the jaded Eurotrash attitude is hugely amusing, and cuts the cheerful pop-tone factor down considerably. When, on “Little Animal,” Wagner sings that his girl is “a little animal/She always wants to fuck,” he’s whining about it.

Wagner, who handled production duties solo on the first disc, is joined in the booth this time by the legendary songwriter and producer Richard Gottehrer. It doesn’t get any more old-school than Gottehrer; he was around when candy-pop was young. He cowrote “I Want Candy” and “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and, when punk rediscovered this genre in the 1970s, Gottehrer produced Blondie’s first album.

The neat thing about Chain Gang of Love, however, is how irony-free it is. The Raveonettes put their own attitudes on the retro sound, but there’s no smirking daylight between the two. They really believe in what they’re doing, and that’s no gimmick.

—Shawn Stoner

Rene Rosnes
Rene Rosnes and the Danish Radio Big Band (Blue Note)

Canadian pianist and composer Rene Rosnes made her debut as a leader in 1989, proceeding to record and perform with a range of such jazz luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Joe Henderson and Jack DeJohnette. She also worked with both the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, experiences that led the way to this, her ninth album, recorded in Copenhagen with the Danish Radio Big Band.

Her seven originals on the release are a mix of new pieces composed specifically for this project and earlier selections arranged for this large ensemble. The set also features an arrangement of J.J. Johnson’s “Lament.” “Black Holes,” from her 1997 album As We Are Now, is expanded with exuberant layering and punctuation, while “Quiet Earth” (from Life on Earth) is expanded from a trio with string quartet to a luscious tapestry of gently undulating harmonic textures. Throughout, Rosnes’ solos are a mix of elegance and playful explorations.

—David Greenberger


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