Does anyone need a Greatest Hits album in 2020? That’s a question Jack White has obviously been pondering over at Third Man Records’ HQ. As the explainer on their website posits, “In an era of streaming where the idea of a ‘Greatest Hits’ album may seem irrelevant – that an act’s most streamed songs are considered their de facto “hits” – we wholeheartedly believe that great bands deserve ‘Greatest Hits’”.
The White Stripes are unarguably one of the great bands of the 21st century, a universally beloved yet uncompromising rock act who took the bare bones of dustbowl blues and stuck them full of bolts and electrical wiring to create something at once instantly familiar and unlike anything anyone had heard before. For the better part of a decade their songs ruled the airwaves before they quite definitively called it a day in 2009. So, yes, The White Stripes don’t need a ‘First Ten Years’ or a ‘Greatest Hits… So Far!’, they deserve a goddamn ‘Greatest Hits’.
A well-curated Greatest Hits can act like rocket-fuel for a new fan, offering them a glimpse of a band’s entire identity rather than just a snapshot in time. That being said, in a world crammed with ‘Most Popular Tracks’, ‘This Is’ playlists and Where To Start articles, no one needs another collection of songs that starts with ‘Seven Nation Army’ and proceeds to run down through ‘Blue Orchid’, ‘Icky Thump’, ‘My Doorbell’ and so on before finally tailing off into comparative mediocrity.
Thankfully The White Stripes’ ‘Greatest Hits’ isn’t just a flagrant cash-in (although, what with its pre-Christmas release date and the inclusion of all those ‘de-facto hits’ mentioned earlier, it is also that). With it being sub-titled ‘My Sister Thanks You And I Thank You’ and Jack White’s electric promotional performance on SNL, it seems pretty clear that the taller White Stripe was heavily involved in this track-sequencing, and it’s always nice to have an artist-picked entry point into their work.
And he’s done a good job of it too. The album neatly reflects the evolution of the band without ever becoming a predictable, chronologically ordered ‘Singles Collection’. With an opening salvo that includes their debut single ‘Let’s Shake Hands’, the red-raw ‘The Big Three Killed My Baby’ and the evergreen ‘Fell In Love With A Girl’ quickly followed up with direct late-career ragers ‘I’m Slowly Turning Into You’ and ‘Hardest Button to Button’, the album makes sure to showcase the greatness of even their most straightforward songs.
Placing any of these scrappier tracks next to the experimental bent of ‘Conquest’ or the blown-out blues of ‘Ball & Biscuit’ would make them sound harsh and amateurish, so instead the album makes space for everything, flowing neatly between vibes rather than eras. When there is a stylistic left turn the album really makes it count, such as when a lovely run of the band’s folksier songs (‘Jolene’, ‘Hotel Yorba’ and ‘Apple Blossom’) is cut off by ‘Blue Orchid’s never-crunchier opening riff. Ending on ‘Seven Nation Army’ is also an absolute troll move worthy of a band who spent most of their career convincing people they were siblings rather than ex-spouses.
Ultimately if you are already a fan of The White Stripes then this isn’t going to give you anything you haven’t already heard. It’s not meant to. It’s a Greatest Hits album, not a B-Sides & Rarities collection. What it is is a relatively complete encapsulation (RIP ‘The Air Near My Fingers’) of everything that made people fall in love with this noisy drum and bass duo in the first place. It’s also perfect Christmas present fodder for either your Led Zeppelin-loving grandad, your second-hand car- owning sibling, or your teenage niece who, to your absolute horror, has started collecting CDs as a retro ‘bit’. Merry Christmas.
Words: Josh Gray
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