The White Stripes
Rating: 8 out of 10
I’ll admit I was surprised earlier this year when I discovered that there was a new White Stripes album on the way. After Get Behind Me Satan more or less capitalized on Elephant’s fairly successful attempts at trying to expand Jack White’s sing/song worth, (he added a low end), but hadn’t really surpassed its predecessor, one could only assume that Jack had ran out of places to go. Early reception of the album may as well have stated that it was the greatest thing to emerge from a studio since…well, fuck I wasn’t alive that long ago. But, as people ACTUALLY listened, they could tell that Jack was struggling a bit. Meg White hadn’t grown out of that snare/crash/snare/crash K-hole that she’s been stuck in since this group gained any notoriety, and despite expanding a little on the instrument front, the album really didn’t go anywhere. It wasn’t bad, but it was nowhere the masterpiece the salivating critics claimed it to be, nor was it an improvement on Elephant.
Then The Raconteurs fairly cemented the assumption that The Stripes had had it as Jack merrily pranced into the new pussy and happily added a rhythm guitar, bass and a REAL drummer to the mix. It had to have been a different world for him and I don’t believe for a second that he didn’t consider giving up on The Stripes after getting his dick wet with new possibilities.
But, I guess old pussy has wisdom, even if it can’t drum.
So enter Icky Thump, sixth album from Jack and Meg, first recorded for Warner Bros. The responses have been good since the album’s release, but certainly not the red hot reception Get Behind Me Satan garnered, which baffles the shit out of me considering Icky Thump buries that record. Icky Thump succeeds because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Interesting considering that it’s their most crafted record, having taken them about three weeks to record in a real studio. And, unlike Get Behind Me Satan, the extra instruments (trumpet in one instance) blend so well that they don’t really distract from what's going on or sound like a thickening agent added to layer the sometimes thin guitar/crash cymbal formula. They’ve found a way to make themselves interesting again and I applaud ‘em.
“Icky Thump” is almost a low tempo variation on “Seven Nation Army,” but it revels in high-distorto string play, hitting blues notes amid Meg’s familiar cymbal blasts. The strum-heavy “Bone Broke” (Holy shit, Meg found the hi-hat!) and hypertensive static of “Little Cream Soda” follow suit, both emitting high doses of energy and blues-born gems like: “Well every highway that I go down seems to be longer than the last one that I knew about…oh well..
The Corky Robbins-penned track, “Conquest,” adds some sense to the gringo matadors on the front cover, providing some Flamenco riffs and Latin trumpet. Dig the trumpet/guitar duel. Continuing the ethnic theme, folk/spoken-word medley “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” & “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)” is carried by the steady hum of bagpipes.
“300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” hits all the right notes with me, even lyrically when Jack quietly states, “I’m breaking my teeth off/trying to bite my lip.” The song explodes periodically into heavy distortion, but I think the song’s at its best when its pensively crawling along amid some intermingling acoustic riffs. Another somewhat mellow high point is “A Martyr For My Love For You.” An organ provides the song’s low end, Ray Manzarek-style kinda, but Jack, once again, wins the song over with the right riff.
I was also quite won over by “Catch Hell Blues,” where Jack borrows a section of a song from Fugazi and slides the hell out of it. It sounds damn near blues authentic, considering that gringo matadors are throwing it down. “Rag & Bone,” a playful exchange between Jack & Meg where they assume the respective rolls of junk collectors, bangs out familiar blues riffs, but manages to make it work without sounding too overdone.
“You Don’t Know What Love Is” and the Michel Gondry-inspired, “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” are the album’s thumps, the latter song having been written around a video that Gondry shot. But, they’re not bad. They just don’t seem to put out the vitality that the rest of the album embraces.
If and when things get too complicated, tear it down and start over. Not that The Stripes didn’t continue to try and experiment instrumentally, but Icky Thump’s purpose was to essentially bring it all back to the primary elements and play some rock n’ roll. And, I think it’s the most cohesive album they’ve put together in a while. In the album’s closing track, “Effect And Cause,” Jack sings,”Well in every complicated situation of human relation/Making sense of it all takes a whole lot of concentration.” In this instance, I think it was just a case of old pussy having wisdom…
…even if it couldn’t drum.
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