If you, Sound the Sirens reader, have clicked on the link to this review, I assume you are well familiar with The White Stripes, their story, and their unlikely return after Jack White spent the better part of the last year marauding the world with his super group The Raconteurs. What you probably don’t know, at least haven’t entirely discovered yet, is how great their new album, Icky Thump is. It recalls the cold-cocked Delta blues of their first four albums, yet also shares the experimental noodling of Get Behind Me Satan. In fact, most of the songs on Icky Thump could have been on any of the band’s old albums.
While for some bands the notion of their new songs sounding like they came from the band’s old albums could be damning, for the White Stripes, it is an intended career move. For the most part, the band shuns the idea that there should be album-to-album growth, since most of the time that leads to terrible self-absorption, and a desire to try things like adding synthesizers in order to go for some kind of mystical musical “depth.” (You need to look no further than the last third of the last Strokes record to see this.) For the Stripes, the closer their new songs sound to their first album the better. To this end, great tracks like “Little Cream Soda,” “Catch Hell Blues,” “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues,” “Bone Broke,” and album highlight “I’m Slowly Turning Into You,” don’t sound out of synch with “Astro,” “Jimmy the Exploder,” and “Suzy Lee” on The White Stripes.
At the same time as refusing to evolve, the band has grown through Jack’s increasing virtuosity at guitar, and subsequent instrument expansion. On Get Behind Me Satan Jack seemed bored with just playing guitar, and spent much of the album playing barroom piano. The times he did decide to grace with his guitar playing, on “Blue Orchid” and “Red Rain,” the results were great. On the tracks he played piano the results were mixed. On Icky Thump however, Jack plays guitar on all the tracks, yet the band still incorporates unlikely instruments. On “Conquest,” Jack trades a high-soaring riff with a mariachi trumpeter, and on “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Thorn,” and “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)” Jack riffs with Scottish Bagpipes. All three songs are different than anything in the White Stripes catalog, but with Jack still playing guitar, the tracks don’t have the boredom that crept in during Get Behind Me Satan.
While the album is overall better than the White Stripes’ last, Icky Thump bears some minor issues. For one, lead single “Icky Thump,” while having a Led Zeppelin-esque riff, lacks the power or catchiness of their last two lead singles, “Blue Orchid” and especially “Seven Nation Army.” The album also sags slightly in the middle, with too many slow blues tracks sandwiched between powerful face melting tracks like “Conquest” and “Slowly Turning Into You.”
Icky Thump fits in nicely in the White Stripes catalog somewhere between Elephant and The White Stripes in quality, (with De Stijl and White Blood Cellsbeing their masterpieces), and finds the band returning to top form. Here’s to hoping Jack finds the time to make another White Stripes album.