Effect and cause: the last song on the new White Stripes album or an explanation of the new White Stripes album? Effect: listening to Icky Thump repeatedly, several times a day or hour. Cause: Jack and Meg White. Regardless of my circular reasoning and logic, The White Stripes are back and better than ever with Icky Thump, their first studio release since 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan.
The album starts off with the first single, also the same title as the album. It’s laden with heavy drums and a xylophone-sounding guitar. The song also contains some of the best rock lyrics written in a long time, great not only for its cleverness, but also its cultural significance:
“What Americans? What? Nothing better to do? Why don’t you kick yourself out, you’re an immigrant too. Who’s using who, what should we do? Well, you can’t be a pimp and a prostitute too.”
The album was recorded in Nashville over a three-week period. The band and the studio’s surroundings may have had something to do with the country influence of certain tracks like, “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)” and “Effect and Cause.”
However, the use of bagpipes and Mexican horns have unexplainable influences, but sound pretty damn cool anyway. Those bagpipes can be found on back-to-back songs, “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air).”
“Prickly Thorn” also features what sounds like a mandolin and continues directly into “St. Andrew,” where Meg says her words over a frantic bagpipe and guitar. The song makes you wonder if they’re talking about Detroit’s very own St. Andrew(’s Hall)…but no. St. Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland. Bagpipes. Scotland. Saint Andrew. Get it?
The upbeat “Conquest” starts off with blaring Mexican horns and is on the mission from the start because…well, it’s a conquest. On “Bone Broke,” Jack resembles King Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys at times during the verses. “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” has a laid back, funky feel with the verses. Jack’s guitar wails and aches during the solos.
“Little Cream Soda” is one of the best songs on the album. Jack lets off frenzied, poetic verses. The guitar rocks heavily distorted riffs and sharply played solos. The drum skills of Meg White can be attested to in this song for all you doubters out there.
Jack and Meg go back and forth over a blues riff on “Rag and Bone.” It almost sounds as if they were improvising the words right off the top of their heads as they recorded the song. Although comparisons could be made throughout the album, “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” sounds quite like a Zeppelin song. The breakdown riff is so heavy and so bluesy, you might wet yourself. The “lala-la-lala-la” over the screeching guitar at the end of the song is superb. One of the best on the album, without a doubt. Tracks like “A Martyr For My Love For You” and “Catch Hell Blues” are definitely good, but when compared to other songs on the album seem only decent.
As a whole, the record is truly flawless. The experimentation mixed with the rawness of the music creates another almost entirely different album than anything we’ve heard from The White Stripes. While Meg’s consistent and steady drumming may go unnoticed by some, Jack’s ear-piercing guitar riffs will make your brain bleed and your eardrums fall out. Looks like they’ve done it again.
Album grade: A