The Top Five Rock Artists of the Decade (2000s): NUMBER THREE is Jack White

This is the third in a five part series dedicated to the top five rock artists of the decade, 2000-2009.  The criteria used to determine this list were: (1) Quality of Music, (2) Quantity of Released Material, (3) Diversity of Media, and (4) Roles of Artists/Band Members.  Look for new posts coming soon!

By Chris Moore:

Easily one of the busiest figures in contemporary rock music, Jack White has made it his business to write, record, perform, and produce music every chance he gets.  There is something breathtaking about the apparent ease with which he has transcended genre lines and brought the influences back to his own music.  It is equally impressive to consider how many directions he has been pulled in during this decade, and yet how strong his contributions have been to each of his numerous ventures.

I, for one, wasn’t sure what to make of this straggly-haired ax-grinder when I first heard of him in the wake of the White Stripes’ breakthrough effort Elephant in 2003.  I’ll never forget tuning in (on the advice of a friend) to Late Night with Conan O’Brien during their week-long tenure promoting this aforementioned album.  “Seven Nation Army” may have been overplayed for some, but I loved its gritty, riffy simplicity, punctuated by White’s lead vocals and Meg White’s wonderfully boneheaded drumming.

With each new White Stripes album I’ve heard, I’ve realized more and more the degree to which Jack and Meg — particularly Jack — are experts at finding their comfort zones, then burning them down.  In the Raconteurs, he contributes a very big, very characteristic guitar sound, somehow crafting a new landscape without plagiarizing his White Stripes sound.  And the Dead Weather, his second side project, is something else all together, a sound that White pulls together with his drumming rather than his guitar work.

Taking these three bands into consideration, then throwing in his solo work and other one-off collaborations for good measure, there is simply no way to avoid giving Jack White a respectful — if not awe-filled — nod for his exemplary contemporary rock music created this decade.


Any music promoter will tell you that it’s not simply the sound of a band that is important, but also their image and general appearance.  Jack and Meg White have excelled with this other half of the equation, always dressing in red, white, and black, as well as seeing to it that their album artwork follows suit.  Their music may draw comparisons to acts of the past like Led Zeppelin, but this is no retro act.  In their continually developing sound, and equally in the way they dress and act, the White Stripes are one of the most interesting bands of the decade.

How to go about describing such a band in a few paragraphs?

I’ll start with words like quirky, bold, frenetic, complex, basic, and that’s just to begin with.  Since 2000’s De Stijl, the White Stripes have released four more albums:  2001’s very promising White Blood Cells, their major label debut Elephant in 2001 (a.k.a. their personal catapult into the pop culture lexicon), 2005’s piano-driven masterpiece Get Behind Me Satan, and most recently, a return to distortion drenched guitar in the riff-laden reveries of 2007’s Icky Thump.  By the time they released their first live CD, Under Great White Northern Lights (2010), the White Stripes had developed quite a catalog to draw from.

That they are able to achieve their sound with just two band members is intriguing.  Granted, Meg White suffered a breakdown that resulted in the cancellation of some tour dates in 2007, but there have been confirmed reports since last year that they are already at work on their seventh album.


Jack White’s work in the White Stripes is substantial enough to be considered notable, but it is his wide variety of ventures outside the scope of his primary band that cinch his position at the upper part of the contemporary rock music ladder.  His five contributions to the Cold Mountain soundtrack in 2003 suggested that he had more to give than could be satisfied in one band alone.  He has since gone on to produce and play on a laundry list of other albums, including Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.  More recently, he wrote and recorded an outstanding duet with Alicia Keys for the James Bond film Another Way to Die, the first duet in the Bond series.

With all the writing, performing, and recording White has done since the early nineties, it is interesting to note that his first official “solo” work was released in 2009 — the single “Fly Farm Blues.”

In addition to these one-off efforts, White has joined not one but two side projects.  The first, the Raconteurs, formed in 2005 along with power pop rocker Brendan Benson (sharing guitar duty), bassist Jack Lawrence, and drummer Patrick Keeler.  After their 2006 debut Broken Boy Soldiers, they followed up quickly with the phenomenal Consolers of the Lonely in 2008.  The latter is easily one of the best rock music albums of the decade, and it is an outrage that I passed over it for my Top 50 Albums of the 2000s list.  This is the Jack White music that I am perhaps most drawn to: tight, fully-produced, riff-driven songs with an abundance of crunchy guitars, a rockin’ rhythm section, and catchy leads.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, White co-founded the Dead Weather in 2009 with the Kills’ lead singer Alison Mosshart, guitarist Dean Fertita, and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence.  This is an altogether different venture that features a grungier tone than the Raconteurs or even the White Stripes.  The songs are a bit longer, and could be described as a set of almost-jams.  After I heard their interpretations of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony,” a so-so deep track from 1978’s Street Legal, I was hooked.

In summary, this decade has seen Jack White bring the White Stripes to worldwide rock music fame, form not one but two side groups, release his first single as a solo artist, and contribute to a myriad of other artists’ albums and soundtracks.  At the time of this writing (early 2010), there is a May 11th release date set for the follow-up Dead Weather album, confirmations from White that the White Stripes will be releasing an album in the near future, and whispers of an all-out solo record from the man himself.

Hands down, Jack White is my pick for the number three rock music artist of the 2000s for all the right reasons: the sheer quantity of music produced, his development of a signature guitar sound, and his collaborations with other artists (Dylan, Beck, and more in addition to those mentioned above).  It’s a no-brainer, my friends.

Elliott Smith’s “Figure 8” (2000) – The Weekend Review

** This is the second in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009.  On January 2nd, 2010, the #1 album will be revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade. **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 is undeniably one of the most hauntingly beautiful studio albums ever recorded.

This album — his fifth and final before his death — came at the peak of his career, blending his early acoustic fingerpicking styles with the orchestration that characterized his later work.  When it was first released, some reviewers criticized it as lacking the “subtlety” of his previous work.


Figure 8 has all the subtle brushstrokes of his tremendous early work — Roman Candle, Either/Or — with a much better grasp of the big picture.  Even XO, released two years previously as his major label debut, never quite attained the cohesion of Figure 8.  The concept of the album title alone is compelling, possibly taken from a Schoolhouse Rock! song (which he recorded during the sessions).  In a Boston Herald interview, Smith explained the concept by saying, “I liked the idea of a self-contained, endless pursuit of perfection.  But I have a problem with perfection…”  Conjuring the image of a skater, he continued, “So the object is not to stop or arrive anywhere; it’s just to make this thing as beautiful as they can.”

If this doesn’t encapsulate Smith’s worldview, then what does?

For better or worse, Figure 8 — not to mention all of his previous work — is often, perhaps unavoidably viewed through the lens of his death in 2003, generally considered to have been a suicide even though homicide could not be ruled out.  Knowing the circumstances of his death, it is difficult not to bestow additional layers of meaning on tracks like “Everything Means Nothing to Me” and “L.A.”

Whatever your take on his life and death may be, the music on Figure 8 speaks for itself.  Ranging from stripped down acoustic crooning to full-band electric romping, not to mention some honky tonk piano thrown in for good measure, the instrumental and vocal textures are well-layered, somehow achieving complexity without distracting from the songs themselves.

Elliott Smith's "Figure 8" (2000)

Elliott Smith's "Figure 8" (2000)

“Son of Sam” is, of course, the perfect album opener.  As my girlfriend has pointed out, you really have to remind yourself of the topic of this track to avoid being taken in by how catchy and pretty it is.  And how many songs about serial killers are simply this good?

Not many, I would hope.

Smith immediately takes it down a notch for track two, declaring his emotional distance in “Somebody That I Used To Know,” which is all acoustic and double-tracked vocals.  Classic Elliott Smith.

No sooner does that song fade then “Junk Bond Trader” kicks up on piano, spewing out disdain in a manner that only Smith ever could.  The next two tracks — “Everything Reminds Me Of Her” and “Everything Means Nothing to Me” — continue along the same theme, but in a more openly vulnerable voice.  The latter sounds every bit as stripped down as the former until about a minute in, when the characteristically double-tracked vocals are joined by heavily reverbed drums, building up to a spine-tingling crescendo.

The album continues in this manner, spare instrumentation at times and all-out rock n’ roll at others.  While Smith is an excellent piano player, guitar is clearly his instrument.  His use of timing with guitar riffs, electric solos, clean and distorted sounds at various times, and even palm mutes is unsurpassed.

Somehow, Figure 8 achieves an eclectic, indie sound that is both very modern and very nostalgic, particularly of mid to late Beatles work.  It seems no coincidence that Smith purchased authentic Beatles recording equipment throughout his career and even recorded several tracks for this release at the famed Abbey Road Studios in London.

It is difficult to imagine any other singers being more emotive, any other songwriters being so diverse in their styles and interests, or any other performers being so talented, much less all at the same time.  For these reasons, Figure 8 is one of the absolute essential albums of the decade, 2000-2009. It may have barely cracked the upper half of the Billboard Hot 200, but anyone who rejects the radio and the Grammys as the best source for new music knows that this is an unreliable judge of musical character.  Rolling Stone‘s panel of judges came a bit closer by voting this album as the #42 album of the decade, but this is drastically underselling it.  After all, I love Love & Theft, I think Magic is rocking, and White Blood Cells is great, but how these albums can place higher than a true masterpiece like Figure 8, I’ll never know.

And don’t even get me started on U2, Coldplay, Radiohead, and Green Day…

Truly, if you have ever felt rejected, needed to distance yourself from a negative influence, tried to mentally process the pressures of society, or simply been human, Figure 8 is an essential album.

The Wallflowers’ “Red Letter Days” (2002) – The Weekend Review

** This is the fifth in a five part series of music reviews, counting down from the #5 to the #1 albums of the decade, 2000-2009. As of today, the #1 album has been revealed, along with the complete Weekend Review picks for the Top Thirty Albums of the Decade! **

By Chris Moore:

RATING: 5/5 stars

Knowing that Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan is son of THE Bob Dylan has raised a certain bar for his career in the music industry.  And he operates, for the most part, within the confines of genres that his father helped to define — folk/country rock, rock and roll, and most recently on his solo album, solo acoustic music.

Especially considering how high that certain aforementioned bar is, the respect I have for Jakob Dylan’s style of songwriting and producing is all the more significant.

In every way that matters, Red Letter Days is the Wallflowers’ masterpiece, coming just three months after the band passed the ten-year mark since their first, self-titled release.  And if you’ve heard The Wallflowers, then you know just how far they’d come to be able to release a record as well-developed, instrumentally brilliant, vocally masterful, and conceptually tight as this one.  Lyrically, Red Letter Days is Jakob Dylan at his best, and his vocal performances, both leads and backgrounds, are outstanding — perfectly orchestrated and yet not flat in the least.

This is what drives me furious about the public reception of this band and of this album.  Jakob Dylan has a style very much his own — catchy, quirky, tight and poppy yet raw — and still there’s hardly a reviewer who can pass up the opportunity to compare him to his father or to somehow reference Bob Dylan in some way.

I know, I know; even I haven’t avoided this.

Then there is Red Letter Days, an album that combines all the compositional qualities and sonic characteristics of my favorite classic rock — great guitar effects, a solid acoustic rhythm supporting most tracks, cool bass riffs, and a strong back beat — without coming off as being derivative.  This is not a band trying to sound like they stepped out of the sixties.  They’re not a seventies jam band transplanted into the modern music market.  And there’s nothing eighties about them.  No, this is a band with its roots solidly in everything that made the so-called nineties rock revival excellent.  Two years into the new millennium, they were carrying the best of those aspects into their new album while also incorporating more experimental sounds — i.e. drum machines and other synthesized sounds typically associated with alternative rock.

Forgive me as I ascend the soapbox, but can someone please explain to me why Red Letter Days didn’t so much as appear on any of the numerous “best albums of the decade” lists that I’ve read over the past several weeks?  I cannot, for all my love of and experience with the rock music of the past ten years, sort out a justification for why Red Letter Days isn’t sitting pretty alongside such acclaimed works as Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Viva La Vida, Elephant, In Rainbows, and Sea Change, all albums that I also appreciate and do, in fact, appear on the Weekend Review’s top fifty list.

Putting the soapbox aside, the Wallflowers are one of the foremost rock bands of the nineties, and despite having suffered a steady decline in popularity, have continued to produce some of the most outstanding rock albums of the 2000’s.

The Wallflowers' "Red Letter Days" (2002)

The Wallflowers' "Red Letter Days" (2002)

From the first few seconds of “When You’re On Top,” it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t your standard Wallflowers release.  This opening track is all about anxiously stretching out for something original in a society that worships the retreads, the formulas.  We’re a society that loves what we know — in television alone, consider the four Law & Order franchises, the multiple CSI‘s and the even more numerous Survivor‘s.  American Idol is the same old formula, but played out season after season.  The narrator of this song, setting the tone for this record, aches for undiscovered ground, all the while remembering that it’s always best “when you’re on top.”  This can be read as referring to some other person being “on top” in his life, or perhaps a more autobiographical reading might suggest this is Dylan singing to us after his band’s decline in popularity after Bringing Down the Horse gave way to (Breach).

“How Good It Can Get” and “Closer to You” are the perfect pair, much more straightforward rock compositions that advance the tone and themes of the first track.  The former appears to exude a confidence, the narrator nearly bragging about what he has to offer, but the latter follows up with a much slower, more introspective approach.

For the fourth track, the Wallflowers shift into an altogether new and different gear.  “Everybody Out of the Water” is some of the hardest rock Dylan and company have recorded.  It really shows their teeth and Dylan seems to delight in the apocalyptic imagery and barely-contained scream rising up in his lead vocal.

This is quickly followed up with another drastic downshift into one of the best, albeit simplest, acoustic songs that this band has to offer.  “Three Ways” is driven by a clever lyrical device that is delivered within a beautiful, mesmerizing melody.

The middle ground of Red Letter Days presents an interesting combination.  Tracks six and eight, “Too Late to Quit” and “Health and Happiness,” are dark, bitter, bile-fueled rock songs that continue with the “all hell breaking loose” vibe of “Everybody Out of the Water.”  Between the two lies “If You Never Got Sick,” which is among the best Wallflowers songs to date.  If I were asked to play one song that represented the Wallflowers at their best, this would be it.  Dylan’s lyrics are beautifully constructed, his vocals are fittingly both longing and confident, and the instrumentation is a perfect blending of strong acoustic guitars, a purposeful electric lead, and driving drumbeats.

It is, in context, a bright spot at the heart of what is otherwise quite dark.

By the time “See You When I Get There” kicks on, the clouds have begun to part.  “Feels Like Summer Again” further demonstrates a positive attitude, playing with the imagery of summer to express all the hope that the warm months represent after a cold, frigid winter and a hesitant spring.

By the time the distorted guitars and crunchy bass of “Everything I Need” wind up, Dylan is a man whose confidence has been entirely restored.  The double tracked lead — Dylan’s lower register delivery in particular — adds to the battle-hardened, yet optimistic attitude that characterizes much of the album.  As he repeats in the chorus, “You can’t save me; you can’t fail me.  I’m back up on my feet, baby.  On the way down is when I found out, I’ve got everything I need.”

The final track of the album is an acoustic-based number in the same spirit as “Three Ways.”  “Here in Pleasantville” takes a deep breath, steps back, and examines the realities of the situation that has spread out before us between “When You’re On Top” and “Everything I Need.”  And there is no more zen-like, realistic song that you’ll find on this album or perhaps anywhere.  This song is certainly wrapped up in a bittersweet haze, but there is something very peaceful about it.

Almost as an afterthought, the bonus track “Empire in My Mind” stretches out and builds up a nearly manic sinking feeling that, “There is no order, there is chaos and there is crime.  There is no one home tonight in the empire in my mind.”  After an album’s worth of confidence building, breaking down of fears and insecurities and restoring independence, this is interesting choice indeed for a closing track.

Without reservations, I strongly recommend the Wallflowers’ Red Letter Days to you as the overall best rock album of the decade, 2000-2009.  Rolling Stone might as well have ignored it altogether for the bland three-star, one-paragraph review they afforded it.  The general consuming public might as well have forgotten the band existed for the relatively poor numbers, as it came in a full 28 spots lower on the Billboard charts than Bringing Down the Horse did and has failed thus far to so much as register on the RIAA books.

Don’t make the same mistake: if you go back and pick up one rock music album from this decade, make it Red Letter Days.

“The Red, White, and Blues” (original Jim Fusco song)

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to the Laptop Sessions’ Original Wednesday. I’m guessing some people will be new to the Laptop Sessions because of this original song video, and we welcome you aboard!

This song, a pun on the “Red, White, and Blue”, is my first and only “protest” type of song.

The song was written in early 2002 after 9/11 about the hypocritical actions of Americans automatically becoming “patriotic” as soon as a disaster hit. This original song is just me wondering why people weren’t just ALWAYS patriotic!

This song is still as relevant today, six years later, as it was when I wrote it. I even talk about Easter in the song (it was that time of year), and I thought this would be the perfect week to bust it out again.

Basically, I’m giving the point of view of an 18 year old kid (at the time) from Connecticut because all the hardship and fear seemed so distant from my everyday life at the time.

To say this song is still relevant today shows how stagnant the country’s been lately.  We still are fighting a never-ending war on terror and the patriotism of the country is waning once again.

Oh, and the verse about California: it’s in reference to when they didn’t have the Red-Carpet festivities for a big award show that year. I didn’t think that was helping anyone. Letting the terrorists know we’re scared? That’ll really help…

“The Red, White, and Blues” is from my double-album set, “That’s All…” that I released in 2003.  I say “double album” in a different way than you would normally think of it.  For instance, the Beatles came out with a double album with their “White Album” (simply titled, “The Beatles”) in 1968.  That album consisted of over 20 original songs and couldn’t fit on just one vinyl record.  For “That’s All…”, it’s a bit different.  You see, I had just gotten a guitar- my first real acoustic guitar, an Ibanez Artcore.  I instantly wanted to play everything on the acoustic guitar and quickly went to playing folk songs.  I even came up with a bunch of my own.  I thought a blues song like “The Red, White, and Blues” would be a perfect way to start off an album of folk songs.

But, I also had a bunch of original songs that I’d written in my normal rock’n’roll style, too.  So, I decided to record everything at once and split up the whole project into two original albums: “That’s All Folks”, which featured all of the folk songs I’d written, and “That’s All Jim” that featured all of my songwriting efforts in my normal style.  I put both albums on one CD, but each album had it’s own cover.  Plus, the combo-pack of both albums called “That’s All…” had it’s unique album cover!

I hope you all enjoy this original song music video. If you want to hear the original recorded version and buy the double-album online, you can go to my website: