No, the White Stripes spent that shell two years ago, when they came out of nowhere (or southwest Detroit), a quirky little costume duo one day, the Band That Saved Rock 'n' Roll the next. Then we were surprised. But this time? Nah. Of course, that's a good thing.
Elephant, the band's first release since 2001's White Blood Cells, has everything that made that album so strong and its predecessors so worth digging around for: fuzzy, electric blues-punk descended from Mississippi by way of Led Zeppelin, mixed in with touches of sweet folk and pretty pop and Jack White's modified Robert Plant wail. It's not as good as other critics are telling you, but it is very, very good, right from the first chord of the first song, a sinister, low-end bang from Jack's guitar followed quickly by Meg White's pounding, Animal-style drumbeat. Who says these guys need a bass player?
For all its sudden success, the band offers blessedly little carping about the trappings and pressures of fame, save for some veiled ranting on that opener, "Seven Man Army" ("I'm going to Wichita," Jack vows, "far from this opera for evermore") -- though it's not much of a whine, and does nothing to drag down what is otherwise the highlight of the album. Beyond that, Elephant is exhilarating, notably the multi-Jacked vocals of "There's No Room for You Here," a reworking of "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" with Queen-like harmonies, and "Ball and Biscuit," lifted, it would appear, from some unreleased third side of Zeppelin 1.
No, there are no surprises on Elephant, except perhaps that there are no surprises on Elephant. The White Stripes continue to be the White Stripes, fame and all, and there's no reason to believe that this album would sound any different if Jack and Meg had never advanced beyond the Motor City.