[Review] The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights

The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights
Warner Bros. (3/16/10)
Rock / Alternative

Throughout 2007, The White Stripes toured across every province in Canada, playing whatever venue they came across, no matter what or where it was. The result was Under Great White Northern Lights, a documentary with a live album to tote.

The doc and album combine footage and tunes from various performances along the tour, making for a seventeen-track album. The tracklisting includes standards “Black Math”, “Fell In Love With a Girl”, “Blue Orchid”, “Icky Thump” and “Seven Nation Army”, among others. It also brings newer tracks like “End” and a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”.

The album kicks off with the blare of bagpipes; while you might briefly wonder if you’ve accidently bought the wrong album, the roaring crowd swiftly diminishes these thoughts. Bagpipes, as rock and roll as possible, pass it over to the Whites when they break into “Let’s Shake Hands”. Jack White’s voice is immediately as hard-hitting and cathartic as possible, followed with the distortion of his guitar and the eternal drumming from Meg White.

The collection also offers plenty of unauthorized jam sessions by way of “Black Math” and “Blue Orchid”, and also a lot of musical freedom for the Whites to roam as they please, with “Icky Thump”. Jack’s vocals come across as decidedly gut-wrenching, building from the bottom of his toes up. “Union Fever” shows White singing like it is his last chance, hypnotizing the audience with his preacher-like tone and lyrics (“Sorry but I’m not interested in goldmines, oil wells, shipping or real estate”), followed with the ominous sound of the organ.

Other tracks portray the closeness of The White Stripes with the crowd, as “I’m slowly Turning Into You” serves up a back-and-forth chant between Jack and the audience. Just hearing it is intensely private and raw, and of course, when Jack White asks you to sing, you fucking sing. “Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself” also shows the relationship between the two, hearing the crowd go crazy for any piece of the band they can get. Further tracks display the more delicate side of the band, with softer tunes, “We Are Going to Be Friends”, and the different approach taken on “Fell in Love With a Girl”, leaving Jack naked with minimal instruments, his voice leading the way.

The album doesn’t have any chit-chat between Jack and Meg, like many live albums do, and only very few casual moments when Jack talks to the crowd. This is great for the album giving us strictly music; all of the extras can be saved for the DVD. Under Great White Northern Lights is a good album for anyone who has never given The White Stripes a chance; it offers up a lot of hits and they are absolutely amazing sounding live, and unlike most live albums the band takes center stage not the screams of drunken douchebags. And finally, at the end of the set, the album takes a bow, ending full-circle with, once again, the haunting sound of the bagpipe.