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The White Stripes

The beloved iconoclastic punk-blues duo of Jack and Meg White possesses a singular and remarkable talent for shrouding the reality of its music in multiple layers of gauzy peripheral bullshit. The outfits. The ambiguous relationship to one another. The evasive, perplexing, even downright incomprehensible quotes. The allegations regarding misappropriation of material from Citizen Kane. Such hyped attention to extraneous esoterica is usually a red flag — this band sucks, and there's nothing in the work worth mentioning, so let's talk about those crazy shoes they wear — but as the whole world knows by now, The White Stripes have already scored the original-music trifecta by being very good, very eccentric and very accepted by the mainstream. Not even the irritating barrage of publicity surrounding White Blood Cells (originally issued by Sympathy for the Record Industry in early 2001 before V2 signed the pair and rereleased it a year later) could detract from its quality.

To call Elephant "highly anticipated" is like saying, "Hey, some people are still pretty excited about the possibility of that Jesus dude coming back." Despite its label's extreme efforts at compartmentalization, the album was among early 2003's most heavily bootlegged; it's also received almost universal critical acclaim since advance copies (on vinyl only) reached reviewers. And surprisingly, the big-mag laudation has hit pretty close to the mark: Elephant is an excellent album. All of the elements that made The White Stripes' three previous full-lengths so engaging and exciting not only remain intact but emerge more finely honed and confidently stretched than ever. First single "Seven Nation Army" hinted at expanded horizons, and there are some, but overall, the Whites have just gotten better at what they do. Uptempo barn-burners ("Black Math," "Hypnotize") nicely break up the slower, groovier seduction of stomping, high-volume, nervy blues ("The Hardest Button to Button," "Little Acorns"). The obligatory Meg-sung track, "In the Cold, Cold Night," far surpasses its predecessors. A cover of the Burt Bacharach tune "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself" re-imagines slick crooning as '50s proto-rock with a dirty knife-edge. Perhaps most pleasantly surprising is the tangibly McCartney-esque vibe of the anthemic "There's No Room for You Here" and intimate, piano-driven "I Want to Be The Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart."

As great as it is, Elephant isn't quite perfect. The seven minutes of brusque, sexy city-blues attitude rendered as "Ball And Biscuit" are an unnecessary and overlong drag — they dig the style, we get it. And the late filler "The Air Near My Fingers" leads one to believe they'll go out on a low note, before redemption comes in the form of the absolutely ripping "Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine" and the endearing closer, a three-way conversation with English electric-folk impresario Holly Golightly called "Well It's True That We Love One Another." These scant missteps are far overshadowed, however, by the proliferation of great songs, raw tones and inimitable style that combine to make Elephant one of the best and most original albums so far this year. 1/2—Scott Harrell

All Your Summer Songs

It's no surprise that Saturday Looks Good to Me is from Detroit, considering the group's excellent reworking of the classic Motown sound mixed with lo-fi shades of garage-rock and twee-pop. The album picks up where their inspired live show, a real dance workout, leaves off, producing a richly textured sound with the obvious influences of Phil Spector, Belle and Sebastian and the Beach Boys. Yeah, you've heard it all before, but Saturday creates something new here and executes an instantly hum-able set of songs without being too geeky or annoying. The go-go romp "Underwater Heartbeat" gets yer booty movin' with strings, organ and a boppy horn section. Erika Hoffman's vocals and harmonies are inspired by equal parts '60s girl groups and DIY divas. The voices are lush and the sing-along melody is uber-catchy with deep-cutting lyrics: "You'll drive till you crash but you always want to go so fucking fast that nothing ever lasts and you just end up sleeping with the past." Fred Thomas (HisNameIsAlive) is the ringleader, writing, producing and handling the boy vocals. On Saturday's blue-eyed soul tribute to the '60s era Stones, "The Sun Doesn't Want To Shine," Thomas sounds even more like Mick than Mick does now on the slow bluesy ballad. He finds his own voice on upbeat material like "No Good with Secrets" and "You Work All Weekend." Another standout is the rave up "Ultimate Stars," a tambourine-propelled number with a pulsing Motor City bass line and organ treatment. Hoffman's pleading vocals are heartfelt: "If I don't see you soon I don't know just what I'm gonna do/ If I don't see you soon I'll have to find another game to lose." "Meet Me by the Water" and the title track could be Pet Sounds outtakes with off-kilter percussion and far-away bells and keys. Guest singers and performers Ted Leo, Tara Jane O'Neill, Warn DeFever and members of Ida, Retsin and Secret Stars spice things up. A dynamic indie-soul album from the heart, the mind and the groin. —Chris Lunceford

Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful
Buddha/BMG Heritage

Straight from the woefully underrated file comes this terrific 1966 album that never gets remotely mentioned in the same breath as other pre-Summer of Love classics by the Beatles, Beach Boys, Stones et al. The benchmark songs on Hums are hits "Summer in the City" (Spoonful's only No. 1), a simmering rocker, and "Rain on the Roof," a floaty slice of delicate pop. As bookends, the songs aptly demonstrate the quartet's formidable stylistic range. The rest of the album furthers the notion. With buttery voiced singer/songwriter John Sebastian and versatile guitarist Zal Yanovsky behind the creative wheel, the Spoonful deftly blended the folk of their Greenwich Village beginnings with a sunny pop sensibility and a penchant for roots sounds way before there was even such a term. You could certainly argue that this band beat The Byrds to the country-rock punch — quick listens to "Lovin' You," "Darlin' Companion," "Nashville Cats" and the loopy bluegrass hoe-down "Henry Thomas" bear it out. And while English groups like the Yardbirds were laying the groundwork for electrified blues-rock, Sebastian and Co. were copping the acoustic Delta feel on songs like "Voodoo in My Basement." Furthering the band's roots fixation is their use of oddball instruments like pump organ, banjo and slide-whistle. The Spoonful could also pour out a taste of Spectorian grandeur; the arrangement for "Rain on the Roof" is nearly epic. It's hard to say why this band rarely gets the credit its due. Maybe it's because much of their music resonated with an irrepressible whimsy and general feel-goodness. Maybe it's because they weren't English. Regardless, few rock historians take them seriously. They should. This reissue contains six rarities: demos, alternate takes and instrumental versions. —Eric Snider

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