On Elephant (V2/Third Man) Detroit’s White Stripes continue to blast out their stripped-down antidote to radio’s pop confection and bombast. But viewed against any more substantial background the current saviors of rock ‘n’ roll might not seem like much more than a good singer-guitarist and an impressively workmanlike drummer riding a clever concept. The new album cover relies once again on Jack and Meg White’s trademark color scheme (tricked out just a bit with fancier costumes and more self-conscious poses), and what’s on the inside hasn’t changed too much either. The sole audible concession to the present–well, to about ten years ago–in Jack’s protorock guitar setup is the digital pitch-bend pedal, a late cheese-metal effect he uses to send his solos whizzing by with the piercing upper-register shriek of a dive-bombing bee. It’s moves like these–on “Ball and Biscuit,” the guitar speaks the blues in uncannily vocal phrases–that hint at Jack’s range as a player. More often he just piles on the distortion like so many rockers before him–though this too pays off on the furiously chugging “Black Math,” a whir of martial riffing crested by his Robert Plant-esque whine (which he augments these days with rockabilly hiccups). Lots of songs are blatant recycling projects, from “Hypnotize” (a lift from “Secret Agent Man”) to “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine” (which steals from “The Train Kept a-Rollin'”–the Yardbirds version). On “There’s No Home for You Here” the Stripes apply Queen-style multitracked harmonies to a retread of their own “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” Even “Ball and Biscuit” is packed with warmed-over blues conceits–do we really need to hear any more about the seventh son? The album’s highlight for me is the tender and desperate cover of the Burt Bacharach gem “I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself,” Jack leaping from near whispers to wild screams with rare conviction. I still have doubts about how much farther these two can take their shtick; then again, I never thought they’d sell out two nights at the Aragon. Tuesday and Wednesday, July 1 and 2, 7:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence; 312-666-6667 or 312-559-1212.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Patrick Pantano.