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The White Stripes – Icky Thump

June 14, 2007

“Alex?”

“What’s up?”

“Turn on the radio to XRT.”

“Okay. Why?”

“The new Jack is on!”

“Yeah, I’ve heard it. Do you like it?”

“He’s a damn genius. It has this crazy organ thing. It’s great.”

“I know. I can’t wait for the album to come out.”

I have concluded after careful consideration and honest observation that my mother loves Jack White more than she loves me. I still contend that White Blood Cells was the first album to truly get me interested in music, and since I acquired it so many years ago, I have worked my way through the discography treasuring most every moment. I have very fond memories of sitting in my room doing algebra homework, while my mother watched my stereo from the doorway with subtle wonder. Within a year or two, when I finally owned all of the albums, she would practically break down my door screaming “ITS JAAAACK” as if it was Beatlemania all over again. The fact that spellcheck does not find error in the word “Beatlemania” and does find error in the word “spellcheck” vaguely adds some backbone to the love my mother has for Jack White. She talks about him like he is the favorite child, a son who has gone off to college and, unlike the other children, calls back frequently and sends her beautiful bouquets of flowers on mothers day. Whenever we take a ride in the car, she demands that I bring a White Stripes album. And she constantly praises his genius. She only has to say the word “Jack” to encompass the careers of both The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. It is not as if she does not care about Meg, because we both realize she is necessary to the sound, but she simply has brought her love to that high of a level. He makes her laugh. It sounds like I am exaggerating. Sadly, I am not.

When we heard Get Behind Me Satan was on the production line, we freaked out about equally. I cut out a full page add from The Onion and put it on my wall, above my CD rack. It is still there. It is in obscured light. She called me on the phone and told me about the fantastic single, Blue Orchid. We were very excited. When we finally bough the album, we couldn’t be more indifferent. I was angry. For an album with so much hype, I was pissed that there were so few winning songs. She was more confused and hurt than anything. I remember playing the CD in the car, and when we got to My Doorbell, she simply told me, “I’m sorry, I can’t deal with Jack right now.” That was the breaking point. That is usually a statement that she saves for Axl Rose. That was a rough ride home. I could easily spend an entire review complaining about Get Behind Me Satan. I probably won’t.

Both of our woes were significantly healed by the release of Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs. We both enjoyed the depth that was given to Jack White’s songwriting, and the quality of the songs, but we realized it wasn’t as heavy as we would like. She sipped a thermos of black coffee in the car.

“This is good, but not Elephant good.”

The milk in my fridge expires on June 19th. On June 19th, the White Stripes’ new album, Icky Thump, will hit stores. I have heard the album. I have not downloaded the leak. I heard it played all the way through on my local alternative rock radio station, Q101. This was a musical experience like almost nothing else I have been through. I have also heard the whole thing legally on the internet, god forbid the only reason I have visited mtv.com ever in the past five years. I refuse to download the leak mostly because listening to The White Stripes on my stereo as loud as I can and bobbing my head back and forth has been one of the few truly authentic listening experiences for me anymore. The White Stripes are a band whose albums I BUY. I’ll buy all their records, no matter their quality. I have entered cheap, dingy record stores and bought their obscure singles. It’s just something that I do. I cannot steal from The White Stripes, especially a damn good record like this.

One of the issues I had with Get Behind Me Satan was the wishywashy experimentation that they utilized. Marimbas and banjos sounded like a good idea. They weren’t, really. They simply were not used well. When I first heard Icky Thump on Q101, what struck me immediately were two songs in the middle, Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn and St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air). Both songs mesh together almost as one identity, and they heavily feature bagpipe solos. The former can be compared to Little Ghost off of GBMS, where the band tried a completely different genre. But Little Ghost was a mostly failed attempt at bluegrass while Prickly Thorn But Sweetly Worn is a completely successful European folk song of sorts. And St. Andrew is justification enough that the Stripes have ironed out all of their issues. It features Meg on vocals. Most people cringe at this thought due to the damage that was previously done by Passive Manipulation, but here, Meg recites some nice poetry in a warped voice while the bagpipe and drums rage in the background. This song is not unique, in that interesting instruments like organs pop up more than once on the album, but they don’t simply throw in weird ass effects or instruments for the sake of having them and there are plenty of songs that stick to the classic White Stripes agenda of drums, guitar, and vocals.

As far as a collective sound goes, Icky Thump is the bands heaviest album since their self-titled debut, which had the advantage of an extremely raw production. This album, on the other hand, still has a pretty slick production, but unlike it’s predecessor that doesn’t get in the way of the music. On the title track, Jack’s vocals sound very clear and crisp, and are in fact doubled, an effect that they have done really bad things with in the past. HOWEVER, the doubled vocals are wound very tightly and don’t get to be a problem at all. As for style, the signature blues swagger is picked up again, with great success. Jack goes to work with a soloing style on the bagpipes and organs that is very all over the place, and unspeakably heavy. Beyond that, all of these riffs are rock solid and none of them falter in the places where they might have the opportunity to, another weakness of GBMS. This is classic, vintage White Stripes. Bone Broke, the Spanish themed Conquest, and Little Cream Soda are all classic rockers that will go down in White Stripes history, no doubt.

Strong moments are not few. I can sincerely say that there are no weak songs on the album, but maybe it only seems that way to me because I am a really big White Stripes fan, but it should still mean something that even on the first listen I couldn’t recognize any bad songs beyond the fact that I still can’t. For such a solid album, it’s tough to pick favorites. But I’d have to go with Icky Thump, Prickly Thorn, Rag and Bone, Little Cream Soda, and Catch Hell Blues as personal highlights. But just because the album is at it’s best while doing really heavy blues riffing does not mean that is all it can do. The second and third songs are a little more reserved, at least in comparison to the rest of the album. You Don’t Know What Love is kind of reminds me of some of the pop that is on White Blood Cells. 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues is a very mellow little acoustic tune that transforms into a heavy rocker. As far as vocals go, this is second only to Elephant. Especially great is Rag and Bone where Jack and Meg get silly. At points the lyrics sometimes even get dirty, and I have no problems saying this is most likely the sexiest White Stripes album to date as well.

The White Stripes are back with a vengeance. My milk expires in less than a week. All of the record stores in the area have either gone out of business or moved, so me and a carload of friends will give up the extra few dollars and pack it up for Best Buy. The experience of buying records is not like it once was. We can’t go home and spin a record while smoking doobies on the provided paper. But we will go home and crank the stereo all the way up. And I think that my mother will only stand in the doorway nodding her head along with us, and possibly telling us to “turn that shit up.”

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2 comments

  1. Why do moms love this guy so much? I have a good friend who is in her 40s and gets positively giddy if you even mention Jack White. I love the White Stripes, and I agree with most of what you said about GBMS. It’s missing the dirty guitar wailing tracks like Hardest Button, Ball & Biscuit, etc.. I haven’t heard any of the new album yet, but it sounds like I will enjoy it.


  2. Great review man. I like your subtitle thing under Ridunkulouse Experiences, I’m hiding out in the big city blinking. Good ol’ Wilco.



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