Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 48: White Stripes “White Blood Cells XX” (2021)

The 48th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in June and July of 2021. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (usually one full-length album and one 7” single) to its members every three months.

The 48th Vault package featured a 20th anniversary edition of the White Stripes’ White Blood Cells album from 2001, consisting of two LP’s with previously unreleased bonus tracks, as well as a DVD of a short featurette on the making of the album, and a picture book full of related visual memorabilia.

On the 2001 White Blood Cells album, which was the duo’s third studio release, Jack and Meg White continued to make high-fuzz garage rock, but this time it was based less on the blues than on folk-rock. Where the duo’s sound previously came across like that of a smaller-scale Led Zeppelin, it here began to sound more like that of a modern-day Neil Young and Crazy Horse without any lengthy jams. Logically enough, some of the songs recalled other Young-influenced punk rockers, such as the breakthrough hit “Fell In Love With A Girl” – a two-minute burst of Pixies-like punk rock fury – and the avant garde “Aluminum”, as well as the Nirvana-echoing “I Can’t Wait”.

To its credit, this Vault package does not contain a new vinyl pressing of the readily-available original album, as expanded edition CD reissues have taught us to expect. However, the material contained on the two LP’s of White Blood Cells XX are very much like the type of material we might expect from the bonus discs of such reissues.

The first LP, which is pressed in red vinyl, is titled Demos, Outtakes, and Alternate Mixes. It offers 13 tracks that fit the bill, beginning with two boombox-recorded demos of “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground”. The first of those has a mild sense of lunacy; the second could pass for an old lo-fi blues recording with mistakes included. Also, the acoustic boombox demo of “Offend In Every Way” resembles an old lo-fi folk recording, albeit with the mistakes left in. Although it wasn’t recorded on a boombox, “Hey Mary” is a gentler acoustic demo version of the album track “Now Mary”. The alternate mixes on the LP are more interesting, including the low-key versions of “Hotel Yorba” and Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X”, which are different takes of the two Brendan Benson-recorded tracks issued on the 2001 single called Live At The Hotel Yorba. Also, we get a “working mix” of “The Union Forever” with more psychedelic moodiness and without the usual interlude, an alternate mix of “I Can’t Wait” with more Neil Young-like rawness, and an alternate take of “This Protector” with a more mournful tone. The weakest alternate version on the LP is its take of “Fell In Love With A Girl”, on which Jack’s voice is drowned out by the guitar fury.

The best thing about this disc is its inclusion of three tracks which were never previously heard in any form. The outtake “That’s Where It’s At” is supposedly an early version of “I Think I Smell A Rat”, but it doesn’t resemble that song much; aside from its oddball lyrics, it comes across more like a sort of demo for a ‘60’s pop song. The demo titled “Ooh-Aah” could pass for a finished folk tune from that same decade. And then there’s a boombox demo for an abandoned song titled “Feel Like I’m Three Feet Tall” – and the tiny taste of that song makes me wish it had been completed.

The second LP, pressed in white vinyl, was recorded live at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, Kentucky on September 6, 2001, two months after the release of White Blood Cells (and five days before…well, you know). It’s a good concert recording, with a setlist that included seven songs from the then-new album. For whatever reason, Jack’s electric guitar gave off a somewhat unusual chainsaw-like buzz and grind throughout most of the show. This effect is noticeable but not unpleasant; in fact, it helps give the concert some uniqueness, especially when we hear many unusual guitar effects being applied to the Son House medley “Death Letter / Grinnin’ In Your Face” and the three blues tracks at the end. The buzzing sounds don’t get in the way of the likability of “Hotel Yorba” or “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known”, and they are wisely left out entirely for the childhood innocence of “We’re Going To Be Friends”. This was a good show to pull from the archives.

Note: This is not the same concert included with the Deluxe Digital version of the White Blood Cells album which was released commercially in July 2021. Instead, that was the 6/7/2001 Gold Dollar show which was included in Vault package 34.

The DVD The Making of White Blood Cells contains 44 minutes of black-and-white documentary footage of the album’s February 2001 recording sessions at Easley-McCain Recording Studio in Memphis. Shot by David Swanson and pieced together in disjointed non-narrative fashion, the footage shows the duo in the process of recording an album outside of their hometown of Detroit for the first time, even sleeping on the floor in the studio, without a single session musician in sight. Up to a point, it’s an enjoyable slice-of-life glimpse into the creative process and studio environment, but it gets boring before too long. However, it is a nice touch to show the Whites driving past Graceland in a van at nighttime. Just when you think the DVD is over, it then shows a hidden bonus chapter with footage from two 2001 shows at small pubs: an April 21, 2001 gig at Harvey’s On The Mall in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a February 23, 2001 set at the Khyber Pass in Philadelphia, PA. This black-and-white footage tends to be amateurish and muddy – but so what? There’s always room for more unearthed White Stripes performance footage in a Vault package, and it was a nice surprise to find these Easter eggs. The highlight of the 14 minutes of Kalamazoo footage is the exciting “Screwdriver”, which Jack concludes by playing his guitar with his teeth. The 34 minutes of Philly footage has many good moments, especially the manic slide guitar display of “Little Bird” and the furious stomp of “Let’s Build A Home”. The Philly footage also gives Meg’s drumming more of a spotlight than usual.

The package’s 30-page, 11.75” X 11.75” softcover picture book reprints many mementos from the Stripes’ 2001 adventures, including various photographs, handwritten lyrics, studio notes, concert flyers, promo materials, and magazine clippings. The book also lists the dates and venues of the shows that the Stripes played during 2001 and 2002. The stylish concert posters are the book’s visual highlights, especially when you notice how many bills the Whites shared with the Greenhornes (the band which featured two of Jack's fellow Raconteurs-to-be). One interesting thing I deduced from the handwritten lyrics: “This Protector”, the eerie closing album track about the 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood, seems to have been originally conceived as a song about a home invasion.

Another note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on the two LP’s in this package. The discs have “Monocyte” carved in Side A, “Stereocyte” carved in Side B, “Home Of The Red Birds” carved in Side C, and “And The Hot Brown” carved in Side D.

The White Stripes - White Blood Cells XX

White Stripes “White Blood Cells XX” (Third Man TMR-736) 2021

Track Listing:

Demos, Outtakes, and Alternate Mixes

Side A:

1. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground (Boombox Demo Take 1)
2. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground (Boombox Demo Take 2)
3. Hotel Yorba (Alternate Take Live At The Hotel Yorba)
4. Fell In Love With A Girl (Alternate Take)
5. The Union Forever (Working Mix)
6. Offend In Every Way (Acoustic Boombox Demo)
7. That’s Where It’s At (Outtake)

Side B:

8. Ooh-Aah (Demo)
9. I Can’t Wait (Alternate Mix)
10. Hey Mary (Demo)
11. Feel Like I’m Three Feet Tall (Boombox Demo)
12. Rated X (Alternate Take Live At The Hotel Yorba)
13. This Protector (Alternate Take)

Live At Headliners 9/6/2001 Louisville, KY

Side C:

1. When I Hear My Name
2. Death Letter / Grinnin’ In Your Face
3. Lord, Send Me An Angel
4. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)
5. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
6. Hotel Yorba
7. Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise
8. I Think I Smell A Rat

Side D:

9. Jolene
10. We’re Going To Be Friends
11. Expecting
12. The Union Forever
13. The Same Boy You’ve Always Known
14. Apple Blossom
15. Cannon / John The Revelator
16. Astro
17. Boll Weevil

The Making of White Blood Cells (DVD)

Scene Selection Listing:

1. Intro
2. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
3. Hotel Yorba
4. Fell In Love With A Girl (vocal overdubs)
5. The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (vocal overdubs)
6. Jack Yarber’s Apartment
7. I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman
8. That’s Where It’s At
9. We’re Going To Be Friends
10. Offend In Every Way
11. Aluminum
12. Little Room
13. Driving Around Memphis
14. I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman (vocal overdubs)
15. That’s Where It’s At (vocal overdubs)
16. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground (mixing)
17. Hotel Yorba (mixing)
18. Fell In Love With A Girl (mixing)
19. I Can’t Wait (mixing) & (vocal overdubs)
20. I Can Learn (mixing)
21. Expecting (vocal overdubs)
22. Credits
23. (hidden bonus material):

April 21, 2001 – Harvey’s On The Mall – Kalamazoo, MI

a. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
b. Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise
c. Screwdriver
d. Lafayette Blues

February 23, 2001 – The Khyber Pass – Philadelphia, PA

a. Let’s Shake Hands
b. When I Hear My Name
c. You’re Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)
d. Hello Operator
e. Little Bird
f. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
g. Apple Blossom
h. Hotel Yorba
i. Suzy Lee
j. Let’s Build A Home
k. Sister, Do You Know My Name?
l. Little People
m. Lafayette Blues