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Cork, Ireland
An Irish based alternative music blog. Music news, gigs, live reviews, album reviews... You'll find them here. If you want anything featured or removed, please shout. I hope you'll discover something new to love on this little experiment of mine. Currently editing the Music Section of the UCC Express and contributing to Motley magazine on campus, as well as writing for PopCultureMonster and 4FortyFour. Always looking for new projects so please get in touch if interested. Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Album Reviews: The White Stripes; "Under Great White Northern Lights"

Last Friday saw the first release by the White Stripes since 2007's 'Icky Thump'. Under Great White Northern Lights is a hotly anticipated CD/DVD package, the latter containing a 92 minute documentary on a unique tour that saw the Stripes play the world's shortest gig, on a school bus and in an old folks home to name but three.

It is also worth noting that following the culmination of this tour, the White Stripes were forced to cancel the rest of their tour due to Meg's battle with anxiety and have not toured since. Hopefully they can put this right in the near future, but as it stands Under Great White Northern Lights documents the final days of the White Stripes.

As for the CD, it is a 59 minute collection of 16 tracks - each taken from separate stops on the Canadian exploration. The songs are seamlessly stitched together, providing a mixture of crowd pleasers (Fell in Love With A Girl, I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself, Seven Nation Army), album tracks (The Union Forever, 300MPH Torrential Outpour Blues, We Are Going To Be Friends) and even b-sides (Let's Shake Hands, When I Hear My Name).

The Stripes are really in their element in the live arena, though due to the decision to select songs from different gigs rather than record a single performance, some of this feels lost. Generally their live shows are characterized by the frantic interchange between songs, often performing half of one track, bits of three or four more before returning to the first song again, unfortunately this is not evident here.

Though that said, Jack and Meg truly sound like they are enjoying themselves on this record. Jack breathes life into many of the tracks with his wailing guitar and stunning vocal, while Meg's oft-criticised drumming has clearly evolved in the years that the duo have been performing. Highlights for me are Let's Shake Hands and When I Hear My Name, though with 6 full length albums and an extensive b-side and cover collection to choose from, a number of great tracks are inevitable omitted - think The Denial Twist.

As a live record, Under Great White Northern Lights is one of the better offerings in a difficult genre. It sits alongside Wilco's Kicking Television as one of the best I have heard in a long time.

However, as a live document of the White Stripes this ultimately misses the target. For greater insight into the intricate workings of the uniquely frantic and mesmerising displays, try get your hands on the Stripes' headline set from Glastonbury 2005. This set is what allowed me to conclude that the White Stripes were the finest band in the world - something that has only slightly wavered in recent years. The rapid interchange between tracks, intermittent with repeated plays of Passive Manipulation and Ball and Biscuit are evidence of why many claim the White Stripes are the finest live band in the world (competition for this prize comes from Wilco and Muse, though I can't abide the latter)

In summation, Under Great White Northern Lights is a fine record, essential for any White Stripes fan. As a standalone release, it is top notch; including the vast majority of the Stripes' live favourites in a solid recording. You can't criticise the production on this one bit! In fact, the only time I can find fault with the record is when I compare it to previous live recordings.

The White Stripes; Under Great White Northern Lights: 8.5/10. Good all round record, well recorded; though the regular frantic fluidity of the White Stripes live performances feels maligned next to the faultless production. Very enjoyable.

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