Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 55: White Stripes “Elephant XX” (2023)

The 55th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in April of 2023. 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 55th Vault package featured a 20th anniversary edition of the White Stripes’ Elephant album from 2003, consisting of two LP’s with new mono mixes of the album's 14 tracks, as well as a 7-inch single containing demo versions of two of the songs, a DVD featuring bonus video material, and a picture book full of related visual memorabilia.

The 2003 Elephant album was a major breakthrough on all fronts for the Detroit-based indie-rock duo, charting in the Top 10 in the U.S. and several other countries, and going to #1 in the U.K. Jack and Meg White's high-fuzz garage rock was becoming more accessible and sophisticated, still based mainly on traditional blues, but also incorporating folk-rock ("You've Got Her In Your Pocket") as well as alternative ("Black Math", "Little Acorns") and arena rock ("There's No Home For You Here"). The opening track "Seven Nation Army", with its hypnotic bass-like riff, became -- and remains -- a frequently played radio hit, and even a popular football stadium chant. The duo’s small-scale guitar-and-drums approach was as potent as ever, and was particularly effective on such tracks as the lengthy blues-rock jam "Ball And Biscuit", the sub-two-minute hard-rocker "Hypnotize", the thumping "The Hardest Button To Button", and the garage-rock rendition of Bacharach and David's "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself". Meg White gets one of her best vocal spotlights on the ballad "In The Cold, Cold Night", and both of the Whites playfully interact with kindred-spirited British singer Holly Golightly (formerly of Thee Headcoatees) on the closing acoustic ballad "It's True That We Love One Another".

The Vault package's double-LP mono version of the album, pressed in one red vinyl disc and one white vinyl disc, was remixed by Jack White and Bill Skibbe in Nashville, using the same Calrec board that was used for the original stereo mix of the album 20 years earlier at Toe Rag Studios in London. The mono mixing generally gives the songs a more distant sound, with their layers of production noticeably flattened, often making the tracks sound as though they were recorded in the 1960's. The high-tech hard rock punch of some songs ("Black Math", "Hypnotize", "Little Acorns") is diluted, leaving the mono versions with a quaint sense of garage psychedelia. In the case of "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself", the retro-'60's quality is a reminder of the song's '60's origins. In some cases, these mixes draw more attention to certain instruments: for example, the harmonium is more noticeable on "In The Cold, Cold Night", as is the piano on "It's True That We Love One Another". Another notable difference in the "In The Cold, Cold Night" remix is Meg's lead vocal, which sounds closer here. Jack's voice sounds more distant and cosmic on "Black Math", while he sounds a bit more up-close-and-personal on "You've Got Her In Your Pocket".

Are there noticeable changes to any of the song structures? Yes, most notably to the album's best-known song: "Seven Nation Army" now sounds like it has a double-tracked vocal, and it has four extra bars added at the end. And the second-to-last track, "Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine", has an extra line of lyrics added to the last stanza: "I don't have the patience to watch you battle every miniscule disease".

There are some songs that are hurt by the flattening of their sound layers. The '70's-style power pop of "There's No Home For You Here" does not sound so good when it is muddied up, and the blues-rock epic "Ball And Biscuit" ends up sounding like an outtake from one of the first two Zeppelin albums -- and one that deserved to be an outtake.

Elephant XX is an interesting alternate version of a near-perfect classic album, a collectible item that is well-suited for a members-only fan club like the Vault, but it's not a must-own.

The package’s 24-page, 11.75” X 11.75” softcover picture book reprints many mementos from the Stripes’ Elephant-era adventures, including various photographs, handwritten lyrics, studio notes, and concert posters. The book also lists the dates and venues of the shows that the Stripes played during 2003 and 2004. The stylish concert posters are visually striking, and point out that the duo shared bills with the likes of Loretta Lynn, the Flaming Lips, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and various Detroit bands. One very interesting document: a proposed track listing written before the album was recorded indicates that the duo had planned to include covers of Bob Dylan's "Black Jack Davey" and Blanche's "Who's To Say" on the album -- but "Seven Nation Army" was nearly left off!

The DVD Elephant-Era Video Artifacts -- inserted in a cardboard pocket inside the back cover of the picture book -- contains one hour of video footage related to the Elephant album and its time period. It starts off with black-and-white video of the Whites recording "It's True That We Love One Another" with Holly Golightly in the studio. Next, it shows approximately 30 minutes of higher-quality color footage of Jack and Meg performing in Japan, at the now-defunct Shibuya Ax concert hall in Tokyo, during two nights in October 2003. Both nights featured performances of "Black Math", the first full of raw energy, and the second more intense. The duo also performed "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground" both nights, with the first night's performance of the song making the slightly better impression. The other live tunes don't disappoint, either. A cover of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is appropriately done with plenty of raw energy. Jack somehow incorporates the old folk song "Take A Whiff On Me" into his own "I Think I Smell A Rat". And Meg comes across well when she takes the spotlight during "In The Cold, Cold Night". Between the two nights' worth of concert footage, we see video of the Whites being interviewed backstage, at a time when they were still pretending to be brother and sister instead of ex-spouses. Jack's insights are good to hear, and it is topical for this package when he talks about how he prefers older recording techniques to newer ones. But the surprising thing about the interview is that the usually silent Meg speaks more than usual. To top things off, the DVD ends with unearthed behind-the-scenes 8mm film footage from the making of the promotional music video for "The Hardest Button To Button". The apparently silent footage is scored with a repeating instrumental piano rendition of the song by Mark Watrous. The results are reminiscent of vintage Fellini-esque surrealism. It's a nice novelty, although the segment does go on a bit too long at 19 minutes.

The 7-inch single, pressed in red-glitter vinyl, contains Jack White solo demos of two of the album's songs. The A-side gives us two muffled takes of Jack working on the short-and-furious "Hypnotize", recorded in 1998, on which Jack played all of the instruments and studio-mixed them. The first take is guitar-based, and sounds roughly similar to the finished track, with a less frenetic tempo and very murky sound. The second demo mix of the song is mostly piano-based, and might have sounded quite good if the recording was cleaner. That mix succeeds at giving us a fleeting "what if?" alternate perspective on the song. The B-side's alternate take of the acoustic ballad "You've Got Her In Your Pocket" is believed to have been recorded for a sound check during the Elephant sessions. It sounds just slightly different from the finished track, and in a good way. Some of the lyrics are arranged in a different order, and I would say this alternate order works a bit better. Jack's vocal sounds a shade more casual here, but he sounds less like Neil Young, and more like...Jack White.

If you're craving more Elephant-related extras: A digital Deluxe Edition of the album was released commercially during the same month, featuring the original stereo version remastered in HD audio, and a bonus concert recording consisting of 27 live tracks recorded at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago on July 2, 2003.

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 vinyl items in this Vault package. The LP set has “One billion streams and some extra bars” carved in Side A, “The gentle side” carved in Side B, “It's The Top One” carved in Side 3, and “Add in some miniscule disease” carved in Side D. The 7-inch single has "Hentches drop the ball" carved in Side A, and "This is only a test" carved in Side B.

White Stripes “Elephant XX” (Third Man TMR-876) 2023

Track Listing:

1. Seven Nation Army
2. Black Math
3. There's No Home For You Here
4. I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself
5. In The Cold, Cold Night
6. I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother's Heart
7. You've Got Her In Your Pocket
8. Ball And Biscuit
9. The Hardest Button To Button
10. Little Acorns
11. Hypnotize
12. The Air Near My Fingers
13. Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine
14. It's True That We Love One Another

Elephant-Era Video Artifacts (DVD)

Scene Selection Listing:

- "It's True That We Love One Another" Toe Rag Studio recording footage

- Live @ Shibuya Ax, Tokyo 10/21/03

    a. Black Math
    b. Dead Leaves and The Dirty Ground
    c. I Think I Smell A Rat/Take A Whiff On Me

- Jack and Meg Interview 10/22/03

- Live @ Shibuya Ax, Tokyo 10/22/03

    a. I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges)
    b. Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground
    c. Black Math
    d. Cannon/John The Revelator
    e. Ball And Biscuit
    f. In The Cold, Cold Night

- "The Hardest Button To Button” 8mm film reel

Jack White "Hypnotize" (b/w "You've Got Her In Your Pocket") (Third Man single TMR-900) 2023

Track Listing:

a1. Hypnotize (solo demo mix 1)
a2. Hypnotize (solo demo mix 3)
b. You've Got Her In Your Pocket (take one)