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Monday, June 25, 2007

The White Stripes: "Icky Thump"

Back in the early 2000s, garage rock was going to be the "next big thing" after the forthcoming decline of pop-punk and Britney Spears. You had The Hives, The Vines, and perhaps most importantly, The White Stripes. Perhaps it was their mystique (Are the brother and sister? Husband and wife?), or maybe it was Jack White's amazing ability to take a single guitar and make it sound like anything he wanted it to, but The White Stripes have hung around long after all those other bands faded into "Oh, who sang that one song?" territory. For better or for worse, The Stripes have stuck to their guns, staying true to the music that got them rich and famous. But should we still care?

If the title track is any indication of what's coming on the rest of the album, the answer is a resounding "yes." Unfortunately, it isn't. "Icky Thump" is a raw channeling of classic rock 'n' roll with some added Stripes flair. Jack White is at his absolute best here, utilizing his singing, half talking method of delivery that has helped in their rise to fame. At the same time, some of his lyrics are just absurd. Take, for example, "White Americans want nothing better to do. Why don't you kick yourself out? You're an immigrant too!" Umm, sorry Jacky boy. That's not exactly how it works. Stick to the guitar and save yourself the embarrassment that is sure to accompany your haphazard political statements.

"You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)" has a more traditional southern rock sound to it. In my initial listen to the song, I wasn't too impressed. However, I was surprised to find its melody stuck in my head later in the day. Still, we've heard this all before from the band, so it is more of a guilty pleasure than anything else. "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues" is a really great song, despite the fact that it's one of the calmest songs on the album. The guitar riff that runs throughout the song is absolutely infectious, and the screechy, chaotic solos are just as impressive. When Jack sings, "One thing's for sure; in that graveyard I'm gonna have the shiniest pair of shoes" I chuckled a little bit and though that it could very well be the coolest ending to a song that I've heard in a while.

Perhaps the most impressive song on the album is "Conquest," a cover of Patti Page's 1950's battle of the sexes classic. The song has a very south of the border feel to it, complete with mariachi trumpets and Jack White's belting of "Coooooonqueeest!" It is a very stylish, and cool song. "Bone Broke" has classic White Stripes written all over it. Jack's vocals are completely thrashed with distortion, and there are hints of "Fell In Love With a Girl" all over it, despite it's toned-down nature.

There are very few notable tracks throughout the album's second half, which is perhaps the biggest flaw of "Icky Thump." Most of the songs end up bleeding into one another, sounding unbearably similar. In fact, the only thing really worth listening to are the things Jack does with the guitar. "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" and "A Martyr for My Love for You" both feature impressive guitar parts, the latter of which is actually a fairly decent song. "Effect and Cause" closes the album out nicely. A simple acoustic guitar song, Jack's vocals are impressive, and it's nice to hear the band trade layers of distortion for a relatively calm feel.

"Icky Thump" is truly hit and miss. While there are some impressive tracks on the album, the band really brings nothing new to the table. Of course, when you're a two-person band and one of your members really can't play their instrument, it's tough to evolve. The White Stripes may have stuck around long after all those other "The-bands" fell off the face of the planet, but their music is just as stale. That may be a harsh assessment, but six albums into their career, The White Stripes have not progressed at all. Though it's nice to hear a little rock 'n' roll every now and then, these guys aren't saving the genre. They're choking it to death.

Recommended for long-time fans of The White Stripes, and to anyone who likes classic rock but find themselves asking "Who are the White Stripes?" You'll find them refreshing.

Key Tracks:
1. "Icky Thump"
2. "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues"
3. "Conquest"
4. "A Martyr for My Love For You"
5. "Effect and Cause"

5 out of 10 Stars

7 comments:

A Medium said...

I haven't read this one yet because I'm currently reviewing Icky Thump. But I agree with your score (I might give them a 6). Also, I disagree with "Conquest" being a key track; I just found it annoying. Did you like "Catch Hell Blues"? It was one of my favorites.

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