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The Week Ahead

An 'Elephant' that's poised to take off

March 31, 2003|Geoff Boucher

Things appear to be lining up for the White Stripes. The Detroit two-piece band has enjoyed far more critical acclaim than commercial visibility since its breakout "White Blood Cells" album in 2001 (a Village Voice poll of the nation's music critics named it the fourth-best disc of that year, and Spin magazine, a little late on the bandwagon, named it the best album of 2002), but the arrival in stores Tuesday of the follow-up album, "Elephant," is accompanied by far more mainstream noise.

Rightly or wrongly, the Stripes are often lumped in with the Strokes, Vines, Hives and other young rock bands with a raw, garage-band ethos that contrasts starkly with rap-rock, pop-punk and other recent trends. The focus is on the Stripes this week because they're the first of that group to have a follow-up album. Could they be the first to score a platinum (million-selling) album?

"I think it certainly could be," says Bob Bell, a music buyer for Wherehouse, the retail chain. Bell expects "Elephant" to debut in the top 10 on the sales chart. "Radio loves the single ["Seven Nation Army"] so far, and the music proves they are more than a flash in the pan. The critics are falling over themselves, and rightly so."

Indeed, Robert Hilburn of The Times wrote on Sunday of Stripes singer Jack White: "He doesn't just sing, write and play guitar better than any other American newcomer on the scene, he also outthinks them." Rolling Stone magazine, meanwhile, has dubbed the collection "a stone-cold classic" and bestowed on it its rarest accolade -- a five-star review.

There are other, less expected indications of a building success story. "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" has booked the tandem for a four-night stand, April 22-25, as the music guest, which the show's producers say is an unprecedented move by a network late-night talk show. The organizers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, the massive concert at the end of April in Indio, say the band is named by fans as often as the Beastie Boys or Red Hot Chili Peppers as this year's most potent lure.

Still, the Stripes had a radio hit last time around with the short, blistering "Fell in Love With a Girl" and a coveted performance spot on an MTV awards show. But to date, "White Blood Cells" has sold 663,000 units, well below the platinum threshold.

"This new one will be a test for this particular music scene, and

-- Geoff Boucher

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