Monday, July 02, 2007

Album Review: The White Stripes - Icky Thump

On their new album (and major label debut), The White Stripes break a few of their self-imposed rules, such as inviting collaborators and refraining from doing covers or using new/unusual instruments, by inviting guest artists, using trumpets and bagpipes, and recording a cover. The album's title, Icky Thump, is a Lancashire slang term, sort of an exclamation of surprise. The title track itself is indication enough that the band has passed on the guitar-absent Get Behind Me, Satan and returned to riff-rock. Not too surprising, there, but definitely welcome.

"Conquest" is both a cover and a collaborative track featuring a trumpet/guitar duel that blows the pants off dueling guitars or banjos. The "hunted becomes the huntress" table-turning of "Conquest" would almost be in sharp contrast to the sinister trap of "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)". While the latter is brazenly critical of the person who succumbs to an unequal would-be lover, the former paints the would-have-been Don Juan as duped by a clever, foxy female who "led him helpless down the aisle" with her "female guile". Continuing the analysis of personal relationships, "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" can be interpreted in at least one respect as a charming rendition of lovers adopting one another's idiosyncracies.

The fact that major label digs have not pushed this minimalist (formerly) Motor City duo to dump the rust and cracked plastic facade of their three-minute power chord-driven jams in favor of an album full of epic failings is a blessing. While a number of songs break the four-minute mark (and one, "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues", despite its speedy title breaks five minutes), the album's best tracks retain the character of the Stripes' past. If anything, Jack's lyrics have matured, adding a new layer of growth to the craftily deconstructed yet powerful and hooking songwriting.

Following the bagpipes of "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn" is the misstep of "St. Andrew (This Battle In The Air)", a sort of "Revolution No. 9" with vocals by Meg. Quickly regaining footing, Icky Thump proceeds with "Little Cream Soda", the most rock 'n roll track present with the heaviest riffs and pounding drums telling the tale of an overwhelmed and perhaps somewhat tortured soul.

So, by Icky Thump, are we supposed to be surprised that moving over to Warner Brothers enticed the duo to branch out from their red-and-white box and break their own rules a bit? As the closing track, "Effect And Cause", explains: "Well, in every complicated situation/of human relation/making sense of it all takes a whole lot/of concentration". The answer to that question just be more than we can glean from the album alone.

Click the album art to order.

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