The White Stripes | Icky Thump (Warner Bros/WEA)

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ickythump2This may be the heaviest White Stripes album ever, and it showcases Meg's uncanny ability to understand Jack and drive the songs.

 

 

 

 

 

In 2001, the White Stripes exploded into the mainstream with White Blood Cells, a straightforward, no-nonsense rock 'n' roll album characterized by heavy riffs, punk and blues influences, and the trademark interplay between a guitar god and his loyal drummer. The band perfected this formula with 2003's Elephant, one of the decade's greatest rock records. With 2005's Get Behind Me Satan, however, the White Stripes expanded their sound considerably and effectively polarized their fan base—although the album received critical acclaim, many were disappointed with its eccentricity. Any resistance to the experimentation made sense, because the raw, stripped-down simplicity of the two-person band has always been critical to the White Stripes' identity. Jack White plugged in and cranked out heavy blues riffs, Meg White locked in as only she could, and the results were a timeless combination that were at once retro and innovative.ickythump1

While the Jack and Meg show has always fascinated critics and music fans, the experimental Get Behind Me Satan raised questions as to whether Jack was bored with the concept that made him famous. These questions were amplified when Jack devoted 2006 to recording and touring the world with The Raconteurs; experimenting within the White Stripes is one thing, but the creation of a four-piece band suggested that Jack had officially changed his career path. Fortunately for White Stripes fans, this turned out to be a false alarm, because Jack and Meg recently headed back to the Detroit garage[1] to record their new release Icky Thump.

Icky Thump picks up where the Stripes left off before Get Behind Me Satan, and the album's lead title track is reminiscent of Elephant's classic opener "Seven Nation Army"—it's a furious, aggressive rocker that builds with Meg's pulsating bass drum and explodes with a Zeppelin-esque riff and crashing cymbals. The bouncy second track, "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told"), is a killer White Stripes tune, equally riff-heavy and as radio friendly as anything they've ever done.

It wouldn't be a White Stripes album without a few bizarre detours—the obscure Patti Page cover "Conquest" features Jack dueling with trumpets while Meg's primitive bass drum pounds away, and bagpipes color both "Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn" and "St. Andrew (The Battle Is in the Air)."

"300 M.P.H. Torrential Outdoor Blues" and "Catch Hell Blues" put Jack's love for the blues back on display, and Jack tears through blues riffs with a fury on "Rag and Bone" and "Bone Broke." "Slowing Turning Into You" features a haunting melody that wails over a slow, methodical chord progression, and "Little Cream Soda" is an album highlight, featuring an ominous metal vibe accented by high-pitched guitar licks.

This may be the heaviest White Stripes album ever, and it showcases Meg's uncanny ability to understand Jack and drive the songs. Those who belittle her drum chops miss the point—she's developed an arsenal of techniques that, although limited, provides the perfect motor for Jack's choppy riffs. She's patient, and her ability to build tension with a pulsating bass drum before opening things up and swinging on the ride cymbal is a White Stripes trademark. The blurry marketing of their personal relationship has always been creepy and mysterious, and their musical chemistry adds to the intrigue - it's obvious that Jack and Meg have spent some time getting to know one another.

Icky Thump is a revival that fits in well with White Blood Cells, Elephant, and the band's first release, De Stijl. The album was recorded in three weeks, and it's clear that Jack has riffs to spare. Hopefully the ability to stop everything and crank out Icky Thump is proof that no matter what musical adventures Jack White may explore, he can always find the time to grab his drummer and deliver another classic White Stripes album. A- | Andrew Scavotto

RIYL: The first three White Stripes albums



[1] Actually it was a Nashville recording studio....but whatever 

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