*** 1/2 THE WHITE STRIPES, "White Blood Cells," Sympathy for the Record Industry

The first sign that "White Blood Cells" (in stores Tuesday) will be a good record is that the Detroit-based duo stuck with its original independent label instead of capitalizing on its "it band" status and signing with a major.

Everything that defines the band--murky production, sloppy drums, strained vocals, savant guitartistry, tragic romanticism--is here from its first dirty power chord to its concluding melodic lick. Recorded in Memphis and dedicated to Loretta Lynn, "White Blood Cells" is less frantic than the 1999 self-titled debut and slightly more country than last year's melodic second release, "De Stijl."

Effortlessly flowing from bare-bones, blues-influenced rock ("Expecting") to country punk ("Hotel Yorba") and chillingly gorgeous ballads ("The Same Boy You've Always Known"), "White Blood Cells" is further testimony to singer-guitarist-pianist Jack White's versatility and talent. Meg White's drumming style borders on the prehistoric, but it provides the perfect backbeat for the band's stripped-down style.

The only stain on this otherwise excellent record is the decision to play a synthesizer instead of piano on some tracks. Since everything else about the White Stripes' music is in the purist rock tradition, it seems somewhat out of place. The group plays the Troubadour July 16 and 17.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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