White Stripes not a classic experience

Courtesy of thewhitestripes.com

I’ve never liked “greatest hits” albums. I always prefer the album over a particular song. Therefore, creating an album of popular songs from a variety of albums always feels poorly put together.

It’s like taking the “best parts” of famous paintings (for example: Mona Lisa’s “smile,” one black paint splatter from a Pollack, and that thing that sort of looks like a tree castle in Van Gough’s “Starry Night”) and just making some mediocre compilation that looks kind of good but doesn’t make too much sense (in this case a smiling tree castle thing with a random black paint squiggle).

How about live albums though? Aren’t they just a greatest hits compilation played live?

Well, sort of.

While the live performance may not always have the continuity of a studio album in terms of style and concept, the performance as a whole, however, typically carries an exciting energy rarely captured in a studio or exactly repeated night after night.

Therein lies the paradox of the live album: it doesn’t feel like one complete work because of the compilation of different songs off of different studio albums, yet it does feel unique and whole because of the unique experience of the live show.

With that said, seeing a band live is completely different from the live album and just plain awesome.

Which brings me to this week’s review of The White Stripes’ “Under Great Northern Light.”

Recorded during a tour performance in Nova Scotia in 2007, “Under Great Northern Lights” is actually a soundtrack for the rock-doc of the same name.

The first impression of “Under Great Northern Lights” is the all-out rock barrage of “Let’s Shake Hands.” It starts with joyous bagpipes and simple drum rolls, but then explodes into Jack White’s godly blues/garage-rock riffs.

Listening to Jack White play guitar for thirty seconds will make any budding guitar player weep, because they know in their heart that they will never be as good as Jack White.

This live album gets off to a great start, and it seems that you could never tire of The White Stripes’ live intensity.

While this may be the case if I was actually watching them perform live or even if I was watching the movie, I feel that it is difficult to get through the entire album.

While track-by-track, “Under Great Northern Lights” is awesome, the entire album, as a whole, eventually alienates the listener.

Ultimately you kind of get lost (because everything around you is loud and full of distortion) and become bored.

We then return to the paradox of the live album.

While “Under Great Northern Lights” feels like a unique experience with its own intensity, it ultimately plays more like a greatest hits album that is made to be played as individual tracks, rather than an album as a whole.

That said, I think “Under Great Northern Lights” is something to pick up.

Those individual tracks are definitely worthy of a listen. But it may be more playlist fodder than a single music experience.

WARC 90.3’s Weekly Top 5

1. Carolina Chocolate Drops

“Genuine Negro Jig”

2. Gonjasufi “A Sufi and a Killer”

3. Surfer Blood “Astro Coast”

4. Beach House “Teen Dream”

5. Bonobo “Black Sands”