The White Stripes – Little Room

White Blood Cells
Year :
The Hives / The Black Keys / The Kinks

I am a big fan of short albums and short songs. For me, the optimal length for a pop song hovers somewhere between 2:15 and 3:45. Pushing a song past the four minute mark, in my book, requires justification. Moreover, albums that exceed 10 songs and a 40-minute runtime had better be delivering the goods. It’s not because I have some kind of attention deficit (or at least that’s my claim—my girlfriend might say otherwise). My problem doesn’t lie with adventurous or even overly-ambitious songs either. Some of my favorite bands completely contradict that statement—Deerhoof, for instance, couldn’t write a focused song to save their own lives (and the world is better for it). I’ve also enjoyed more than my share of extended Neil Young jams over the years. My problem is simply this: putting together a cohesive, intelligible statement for a sustained period of time is frickin’ hard to do. Putting together a formally inventive, ambitious, bold artistic statement is even more uncommon. Forget the average pop star—even great songwriters struggle to put out more than 30 minutes of quality music at a time. Simply put, I’m a quality over quantity guy. I’d rather be left wanting more than feeling like an artist has outstayed her welcome.

I’m inclined to think that Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes agree with this sentiment. Throughout the band’s tenure, the duo worked to craft songs using a consciously chosen set of restrictions—limited instrumentation, limited time, even limited talent. Given that the band would extend this theme to their entire persona, it’s easy to dimiss it all as some sort of gimmick. I see it, though, as an incredibly smart creative decision. At their peak, The White Stripes had enough clout to make a triple album with a full orchestra recorded on paddleboat cruising down the Mississippi River. Instead, they stayed disciplined and used their self imposed limitations to move beyond the simple garage rock of their early work and instead squeeze every last ounce of idea juice from a guitar and drum. Their music is dense—not in it’s sound but in volume of ideas and emotions.

“Little Room” serves as a perfect summation of this idea, both in form and in content. Clocking in at a lean, mean 50 seconds and using nothing more than Meg White’s slightly out-of-time drumming and Jack White’s warble, “Little Room” is downright poetic. You can fit the lyrics on a cocktail napkin:

Well you’re in your little room
and you’re working on something good
but if it’s really good
you’re gonna need a bigger room.
And when you’re in the bigger room
you might not know what to do.
You might have to think of
how you got started
sitting in your little room.

This is a song about being in over your head. Thinking about creative endeavours, the bigger room is the giant canvas, the double album, the 1000 page novel. It’s one thing to earn a shot at working in the “big room.” Making use of it is quite another. It’s a lot easier and more common to make Waterworld than to make The Godfather.

In a more general sense, “Little Room,” for me at least, evokes the “Peter Principal.” The Peter Principle an axiom that holds that people will ultimately rise to the level of their incompetence. Commonly used in the workplace, it helps explain why your boss often seems like they have no idea what they are doing. Before they were your boss, they were in the proverbial little room, working on something good. And so “Little Room” is not only an acknowledgement of that fact, but a warning and a call to stay humble. Or, at least to stay out of the “Big Room” until you know what to do.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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