The White Stripes – [Album]

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Now that "Jack White" is officially Jack White and the man known as John Gillis is lost forever, we have to accept him on certain terms. He's now the demanding rock star who is intent on bringing his old ways, Southern gentleman demeanor, and "aw, shucks" mannerisms to the toppermost regions of the earth. He'll do interviews, granted you don't ask him about this, that, and the other (management will gladly provide you with a list of guidelines—don't even think about mentioning Led Zeppelin). Also, if you play his record before it's released, he'll call you on it—literally. He also knows how to kick a guy's ass if it comes to that.

So maybe he is removed from reality and maybe Icky Thump should be the record where he jumps too far and proceeds to crawl up somewhere deeper and darker, possibly head-first. But Icky Thump is not that record. Get Behind Me Satan hinted that all was not well and proved that Mr. White could plod along just as aimlessly as the next guy. But Icky Thump is pretty much a non-stop barrage of guitar and intensity that has all the songs, spark, and high-wattage primal blues and rock 'n' roll of any album they've done before. The guitar solos! You've never heard so many before. But are they wanking, peacock-strutting guitar solos? No, these are white hot, needling guitar attacks whose antecedents are hinted at in early Jeff Beck-era Yardbirds material and maybe in the wildman antics of Ted Nugent, if Nugent had a shirt on and didn't wag his tongue around so much when he played.

Although there are much more developed songs on the album than "Rag and Bone"—it's this song that really sums it all up. Here, Jack and Meg talk to each other about finding a mansion full of junk and how they'll "give it a home." Which really sums up their whole m.o.—take the discarded trash of yore (simple blues rhythms, call and response techniques, an old-fashioned electric guitar and a drum kit) and turn it into something completely amazing. That this is set to a beat that has all the tension and release of ZZ Top's greasy blues classic "La Grange"—well, hallelujah.

For every moment that pushes his vocals a little too out front or relies too heavily on the lyrical push to drive the song (never their strong point), there is redemption in tracks like "Little Cream Soda" (a thundering guitar jam where Jack tosses off the phrase "oh well" with such insouciance that speaks more about his state of mind than either of the Irish-themed "back to my roots" songs that pop up here.

Then there is the matter of "Conquest"—a cover of a 50s hit for Patti Page, which is so close to ridiculous in its bullfighter drama that it comes close to parody—but then Meg kicks in and Jack White brings out the riff and you realize this is no joke and that this track is going to freak people out when they play it live. The musical finale between White and the Mariachi trumpeter is like a truly insane version of "Flight of the Bumblebee." Icky Thump is another step in Jack and Meg White's ascension out of reality and into rock 'n' roll dreamland, but as long as the records are this good, long may they dream.

Icky Thump is out now

Comments are closed.