While De Stijl, last year's offering from the suddenly hot White Stripes, revealed the Detroit group's affinity for sweet and subtle melodies, it was hardly a surrender to hushed pop tones. Having hit their mark spectacularly with an abrasive, assaulting, and howling debut (1999's The White Stripes), the duo seemed tame in comparison on De Stijl. Yet in retrospect, the Stripes' sophomore effort was merely a thoughtful and remarkable pause, a short breather before the brother/sister combo Jack and Meg White reopened the arsenal and lit the fuse once more. White Blood Cells is the unrelenting payoff.
Not only are the 16 songs on Cells better than the quieter moments of its predecessor; they positively bludgeon them to death. Jack White's notable command of guitar tone is pushed to its limits on this set of jackhammering monstrosities, and Meg's primitive percussion sounds more and more like a mob of drunken derelicts stumbling through an alley. The Stripes' noise is a mugging of the blues: the smart-ass punk kids stealing its bedeviled soul to carry into the bleak future. But the Stripes don't stay in the stark Mississippi Delta eternally. "Hotel Yorba" is a sturdy swipe at some form of alternative country, "I Think I Smell a Rat" is weirdly vaudevillian, and "Little Room" is all aesthetic manifesto. Regardless of a song's style or form, Jack and Meg play everything on Cells loud -- which, considering the near-deafening media buzz that seems to accompany everything they do nowadays, is most likely out of necessity.