White Blood Cells is the third studio album by American alternative rock duo The White Stripes, released on July 3, 2001. Recorded in less than one week at Easley-McCain Recording in Memphis, Tennessee, and produced by frontman and guitarist Jack White, it was the band’s final record released independently on Sympathy for the Record Industry. Bolstered by the hit single “Fell in Love with a Girl”, the record propelled The White Stripes into early commercial popularity and critical success. In 2012, Rolling Stone ranked the album at number 497 on its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Continuing the stripped-down garage rock nature of the duo, White Blood Cells attempts to do away with the band’s blues rock influences, instead displaying a more raw, basic, and primitive rock and roll sound. The album’s lyrical themes, which were written by White over a period of four years, touch on themes relating to love, hope, betrayal, and paranoia. Following a major label re-release on V2 Records in 2002, the album became promoted throughout the music press, bringing the band critical acclaim. The White Stripes followed with a worldwide tour and the record peaked at number 61 on the Billboard 200, later being certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. The album’s cover art satirically parodies the amount of increasing mainstream popularity the band was receiving, which depicts the duo attacked by photographers.
Praised for its simplicity and straightforward sound and instrumentation, White Blood Cells set the stage for The White Stripes to breakthrough into the mainstream and is often compared with classic rock influences. It helped define the band’s sound and shape the band’s role in the garage rock revival of the early 2000s. In recent years, the album has been, along with the band’s follow-up Elephant (2003), featured on several music publications’ lists of the greatest albums of the 2000s as well as all-time.
The band rehearsed for one week and began recording at Easley-McCain Recording, in Memphis, Tennessee in February 2001. Meg White was initially hesitant to commence immediate recording, as she thought the songs were “too new.” The album was recorded in less than four days, to try to keep it “as unorganized as possible,” according to Jack. The record’s quick production was intentional in order to get “a real tense” feeling, as well as capture the band’s energy. The record was “rushed” and a final day was saved for mixing and mastering the record; this was the first White Stripes album to be mastered in the studio. It was the first time for the band recording in a 24-track recording studio, and Jack White asked recording engineer Stuart Sikes more than once “not to make it sound too good.”
The album attempts to rid the band of a blues rock sound, instead vying for a more simple guitar and drums garage rock sound. Shortly before the release of White Blood Cells, White asserted that “There’s no blues on the new record. We’re taking a break from that. There’s no slide work, bass, guitar solos, or cover songs. It’s just me and Meg, guitar, drums and piano.” The duo intended to break away from the “bringing-back-the-blues label,” instead containing piano-driven tracks that, to that point, remained unrecorded. Influences are present from a variety of genres, including childlike love songs (“We’re Going to Be Friends”).
White Blood Cells was rushed onto the shelves by Sympathy, although the record label wasn’t prepared to handle the hype that would surround the record. White Blood Cells was released to nearly universal acclaim. Considered the band’s commercial breakthrough, White Blood Cells peaked at number 61 on the Billboard 200, going Platinum and selling over 1,000,000 units. The album also reached number 55 in the United Kingdom, being bolstered in both territories by the “Fell in Love with a Girl” single and its Lego-animation music video. Stylus magazine rated it the fifteenth greatest album of 2000–2005 while Pitchfork Media ranked it ninth on their list of the top 100 albums from 2000–2004, and twelfth on their top 200 of the 00s. Uncut Magazine placed it first in their list of the greatest 150 albums of the 00s.
The album was dedicated to Loretta Lynn, creating a friendship between Lynn and both Jack and Meg White. In 2004, Jack White would produce Lynn’s comeback hit album Van Lear Rose.
Redd Kross bassist Steven Shane McDonald created an online-only art project, titled Redd Blood Cells, in which he added a bass track to the otherwise bass-less album. The White Stripes arranged with Steven to take the files down after more than 60,000 downloads.
Rolling Stone named White Blood Cells the twentieth best album of the decade, and “Fell in Love with a Girl” the fifty-eighth best song of the decade.
The album was ranked on many “best of 2001” year-end lists, including being ranked among Blender, Rolling Stone, Mojo, and Kerrang!’s top 20, NME, Pitchfork Media, and The Village Voice’s top 10. Spin called White Blood Cells the best album of 2001. In 2003, the record was chosen as number 20 on NME’s Top 100 Albums of All Time. In 2005, Spin placed it at number 57 in its list of the 100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005, while Stylus included it at number 14 in its list of the Top 50 Albums of 2000–2005. In 2006, Mojo featured it at number 28 in its list of 100 Modern Classics, 1993–2006.
As the 2000s drew to a close, White Blood Cells was included on several publications’ lists of best of the decade. The A.V. Club ranked it as the number one best album of the decade in its Top 50 Albums of the 2000s list. British music magazine Uncut also ranked the record as the best album of the 2000s in its 2009 list Top 150 Albums of the 2000s. Billboard placed the record at number eleven on its Top 20 Albums of the 2000s, while Rolling Stone included it just behind The White Stripes’ follow-up, Elephant, at number 20 on its Top 100 Albums of the 2000s. NME featured the album at number 19 on its Top 100 Albums of the 2000s list, and Pitchfork’s Top 200 Albums of the 2000s included it as number 12. Several other music publications, including Consequence of Sound, The Daily Californian, Glide, and Under the Radar featured White Blood Cells within the top 30 greatest records of the 2000s. The record is included in both The Guardian’s “1000 Albums To Hear Before You Die” and the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
All songs written and composed by Jack White.
|1.||“Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”||3:04|
|3.||“I’m Finding It Harder to Be a Gentleman”||2:54|
|4.||“Fell in Love with a Girl”||1:50|
|7.||“The Union Forever”||3:26|
|8.||“The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”||3:09|
|9.||“We’re Going to Be Friends”||2:22|
|10.||“Offend in Every Way”||3:06|
|11.||“I Think I Smell a Rat”||2:04|
|13.||“I Can’t Wait”||3:38|
|15.||“I Can Learn”||3:31|