|||||whatever it is, it sounds suspiciously like the Unicorns.||]|
I know I'm a little late weighing in on this, but i feel like now that the RedEye has picked it up, it's become a lot more relevant to a music junkie from Chicago.
Icky Thump is the New album from the White Stripes. It was released to the public on Tuesday. It's a weirder album than the usual White Stripes stuff. It's a lot less conventional. Thusly, there is no doubt in my mind that it's the coolest album they've done since they signed to a major. I'm buying it.
Here's the Thing: at 2 PM on Wednesday, May 30th, Q101 on-air personality Electra played Icky Thump, beginning to end on the radio. Q101 obtained the album illegally from a full-album download site (not unlike the recently shut down Kinixtion). An hour after they played it, Jack White called Electra from Spain, where the Stripes are currently touring. He chastised Electra for playing the album on the air before its release. He didn't yell, but he was angry. He used the words "coward" and "naive" among others, and told her that she is part of the reason that the music business is in so much trouble. Then he hung up. The call was off air, and Q101 has respected Jack's wishes to not air it, although the airstaff has openly talked about what was said. Electra blogged about the whole thing here.
Jack talked about it in a recent interview that got picked up today by the RedEye, so now people other than blog addicts, hardcore White Stripes fans, and people who listen to Q101 know about it, and may or may not care. But when i found other excerpts of the interview on MTV.com, i got pissed about one particular quote:
"I think everyone is like, 'Big deal, it's not my fault. Everyone's doing it. Everyone's downloading,' but it's about the rules and who chooses to follow them. We're all in the business together — record labels and musicians and songwriters and radio stations and MTV — everyone's in that together. And if they don't all respect each other, the foundation crumbles. It's obvious."
Okay. I wanna start my reply by pointing out that this quote is probably the least rock and roll thing said by any rockstar, ever. That said, three things:
1) Electra did an amazing thing for alternative radio by playing that album. There's a huge filesharing problem in America, and the thing about the "everyone's doing it" mentality is that it's pretty close to accurate. Everyone who matters to the continued survival of the music industry is doing it. The research that's done is really not directed the right way. From a synthesis of results of different surveys I've seen, I'd guess that if you did research that was weighted towards fans of music (the people who buy merch and concert tickets and keep fully abreast of at least 10 of their favorite bands while doing anything they can to get their hands on any material of theirs), you'd see well over half of them stealing a good portion of their music in some capacity. The mindset of these people, myself included, is that it's stupid to not use a technology that exists, if it can open doors to new music. So if I could download Icky Thump now, why would I wait until the release to hear it on the radio? This is the contradiction that radio faces. If radio stations are expected not to suck (and nationwide, most alt stations do suck), they have to keep up. If no one is addressing the filesharing problem, why should the radio station be bound by the same laws? it's not fair that they're more visible then the thousands of iPod owners doing it. I used to hate Electra, but I've slowly come to realize that she's the real deal. She's a Chicagoan who loves music. Things like Electra playing Icky Thump keeps Q101 viable, and I say bravo. Jack's anger should be directed towards the person who leaked the album onto the internet in the first place (advance copies are all individually watermarked, so they can look it up if they really care.)
2) Jack White should be thrilled people still care this much about his band. Elephant was a good album, but they've been going steadily downhill since the third single from that album (which sounded mysteriously like the first single), and Get Behind Me Satan was just terrible (despite the Grammy award).
3) The way it worked for the White Stripes is not how it usually works. The White Stripes slipped through the cracks of a label-dominated system. The only reason the White Stripes have the leeway to write an album like Icky Thump and have a good portion of pop culture care about it is "Fell In Love With A Girl." They piggybacked on a trend into the Billboard charts and built a cult following from the top down, instead of from the ground up. Lots of successful indie artists have used this technique. They're all very lucky. Most of them don't stick, and go back to square one (Flaming Lips couldn't follow "She Don't Use Jelly," Nada Surf got chewed up and spit out by their label, etc). If Elephant had been the Stripes' major label debut, they wouldn't be selling out arenas in New York. It's a lot easier to defend the current business when it worked so well for you, but Jacks' standpoint is exactly the changefearing mindset that the industry has fucked itself over with.
Radio stations and labels and artists and (most importantly) fans are not "in the business together" as it currently stands. Jack wants to follow the rules so the major label system can do its job, because it worked for the White Stripes. But its job is to rob artists and flood airwaves with crap, because that's how they can make the most money under the current system. Our generation is on the cusp of bringing that system down.