The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army”

Released: 4.21.03

Peak: #76

Jack White lives in a world where guitar heroes transcend the petty confines of genre, beguiling the intelligentsia with their artistry while their heft clobbers the masses. The identities of his fellow trickster warriors in It Might Get Loud say it all: Jimmy Page, who alloyed his art-rock in a metallic sheen, and the Edge, who camouflaged arena-rock in new wave textures.  So of course White started out punky, sitting in his little room and fending off the infectious corpuscles of commerce. But lest you take the scrappiness of  White Blood Cells too literally, White named its bloated, bloozy follow-up Elephant. Dinosaur must have seemed too obvious.

Still, guitar heroes can’t always transcend the iron bonds of history. White was surely working some crypto-mythic Harry Smith hoodoo with the lyrics of “Seven Nation Army.”  But as Crusades revivalism stirred the heartland and Bush scrounged up his own five-nation invasion force to chant down Babylon, language this biblical and martial couldn’t ferret its meaning away in a private burrow. And so arises the image of Jack White as desert jihadi, standing down the Coalition of the Willing like a paler and butcher Peter O’Toole, a vision as impossible and yet perfect as that of Robert Plant leading Viking hordes down upon Britannia’s green fields.

Wild children who think daytime fellatio and an in-the-red blood alcohol content are hallmarks of decadence are always reminding us that Rock needs to “stay dangerous.” I’m not sure “Seven Nation Army” is what they mean. But that ominous down-tuned hollow body, its riff clicking into place with Meg’s metronomic boom-chick, taps into the sort of apocalyptic vibe that rockers often sound foolish attempting to summon. Jack just sounds … well, heroic.

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