The White Stripes: Icky Thump

I’m sure you are well aware that The White Stripes released their 6th studio album earlier this week. Icky Thump has been gathering some pretty strong reviews already, and after listening I would have to agree with them. But I also have to admit to being a fair-weather fan of the band. White Blood Cells is one of my favorite records of the decade, but I always thought both Jack and Meg’s earlier albums (The White Stripes and De Stijl) had their respective “wow” moments but weren’t consistent enough for me to go back to too frequently. Same goes for their 2 post-WBC albums (Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan). Elephant always struck me as wildly overrated, really only having a handful of songs I found interesting. Incidentally, I’ve always enjoyed Get Behind Me Satan quite a bit, maybe more than most people seemed to, but I still found that it was just lacking something to put it over the edge. Maybe White Blood Cells set the bar too high. Maybe I was tiring of the whole red/black/white image thing. Maybe I’m an idiot.

Any way you slice it, after just a few listens Icky Thump seems to be a strong return to form. I’ve been a long time admirer of the no-nonsense way The White Stripes go about recording. In this era of bands using all kinds of studio/computer trickery, the Stripes have held true to the belief that music is better when banged out with more spontaneity than precision, more passion than skill, and more guts than brains. Despite Icky Thump taking the band a (for them) record 3 weeks to record it doesn’t come close to sacrificing this aesthetic. If anything it is among the rawest of their albums. Jack White attacks his guitar mercilessly, making it at times squeak and squall like a hunted animal fighting for its life. His singing and lyricism are as sharp as ever, and the songs possess a continuous sense of melody that has been lacking since White Blood Cells. In short, Icky Thump is just in-your-face raw in a way that few other bands could pull off, but also full of memorable tunes.

My early favorite is “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues”, and it’s just as wordy as you may think from the title. It’s a long, winding take on folk blues, and rides a deep acoustic groove with punches of ferocious electric guitar. White spits out some of his most playful lyrics (“I’m getting hard on myself sitting in my easy chair”), and Meg keeps easy time behind him. She has the whole start/stop method of playing down pat at this point. The song gradually builds to its dramatically tongue-tied finale, with White shoving about 20 times too many syllables into the penultimate line. Lead single “Icky Thump” continues the Stripes trend over their past 3 albums of kicking them off with a riff heavy rocker designed for radio. “Icky Thump” is downright sinister sounding, and fits this mold perfectly.

MP3 :: 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues
MP3 :: Icky Thump
(from Icky Thump)

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Here are what some other reviewers are saying about Icky Thump:

And check back tomorrow for some live White Stripes from their famous Peel Sessions.

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