Repeating the “Rock is Dead” Trope

Eric Been takes a look at the tenth anniversary of The White Stripe’s classic record White Blood Cells and how it was just one record of many that fell into the “saved rock n’roll” theme of lazy music writers.

Yet, for all the self-imposed restrictions placed on the album, it managed to be surprisingly diverse. The band swung between the country tinge of “Hotel Yorba” to the quasi-ballad “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” to the proto heavy-metal instrumental “Aluminum.” “We’re Going to Be Friends” plays like a whimsical schoolyard jingle, while “I Think I Smell a Rat” displayed a Spanish guitar influence. The album was book-ended with the hard-rocking “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” and the subtle piano-backed duet “This Protector.”

But the defining White Stripes aesthetic, which continued on White Blood Cells, was brevity. Not a single song on the album goes past the four-minute mark and only six of the 16 tracks make it past three minutes. Being concise allowed them to cover a vast amount of musical terrain while appealing to short attention spans. Perhaps that’s what made it resonate with both orthodox rock purists and the MTV Generation. “In less than two minutes,” the New Yorker’s Ben Greenman wrote in 2002, “[‘Fell in Love With a Girl’] distills thirty-five years of garage rock and leaves you wanting more.”

But, of course, rock’s so-called resurrection was short-lived. Once again the genre has supposedly flat-lined. Only one rock song cracked the top 10 of Billboard‘s Hot 100 Songs of 2010, and it was barely “rock”: Train’s treacly “Hey, Soul Sister,” which The Village Voicerightfully named the worst tune of 2010 and “the whitest song to ever have the word ‘soul’ in it.”

Great piece of music criticism, which is actually a criticism of music writing more than anything.

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