The White Stripes were the most American of American bands. They mastered country, folk, blues, rock, pop, R & B, punk, grunge- virtually any style of American music that matters. And while they may not have “mastered” hip-hop or jazz exactly, they occasionally peppered their music with hip-hop-like rhythms and jazzy sing-speak, particularly during Jack White’s manic in-concert scat breaks, and in songs like “The Denial Twist.”
They also did everything right. That’s not to say they never wrote a subpar song. But they never made a subpar album. They had pretensions, but were rarely pretentious. They were populist and avant-garde. (For instance, the snake-charming synthesizers in “Icky Thump” may have been the weirdest sounds ever to crack the Billboard Top 40.) They were extremely image-conscious, but not superficially so. They were sweet and childlike, yet cranky and bad-ass.
If any of my other favorite bands called it quits tomorrow, I might be disappointed, but I don’t know if I’d feel sad. Right now I’m still sad about The White Stripes. Their arrival filled a gigantic hole in American music. The hole left by their absence feels much, much bigger.