The White Stripes’ fifth album finds Jack White in the same position, though not in the same league, as Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Thanks to his high profile romance with Renee Zellweger, which ended recently in suitably bizarre fashion both parties married other people in secret, Jack has been clasped to the bosom of the gutter press. A very public falling out with The Von Bondies’ Jason Stollsteimer in a Detroit bar room brawl further boosted White’s cachet and left Stollsteimer the worse for wear. Finally the tabloids had a new rock ‘n’ roll bad boy to replace the predictable and increasingly irrelevant posturing of the Gallagher brothers. But has Jack White III managed to find time to write some goddamn tunes between all the bust ups?
It appears the answer is a disappointing, though perhaps not too surprising, no. Get Behind Me Satan lacks both the immediacy and spunk of 2003’s Elephant; there’s no grand standing rocker of Seven Nation Army’s quality to be found here. Opener and first single Blue Orchid is arguably the most conventionally Stripesean track, bevvy of Led Zep helium falsetto and heavy cock rocking. Unfortunately it totally fails to go anywhere, instead content to plod along in amiable fashion, as if White forgot the chorus.
That half-finished vibe permeates the album, not quite to the depths of “will this do?” banality but at times it all seems a bit too familiar. There’s the requisite up tempo numbers (the almost too catchy Doorbell that treads a fine line between irritating and infectious) and the trademarked low down dirty blues squalls (Instinct Blues) but it all sounds like reheated Elephant off-cuts. Get Behind Me Satan isn’t necessarily a bad album, it’s just a little too studied and a touch soulless, like Jack and Meg are merely going through the motions.
Maybe Jack White has been stricken with the creative bankruptcy that eventually spreads to all groups who taste some degree of recognition and fame. Once you’ve made it, it’s hard to wring the same depth of feeling from a life of hanging out with celebs and Yes men. Misery and frustration, not film premieres and coke, breeds music of passion and worth.
Part of the problem is that, while it’s still ostensibly The White Stripes, Jack almost seems to be railing against their patented stripped back sound. The minimalist garage approach to Elephant meant the songs stood or fell on their own merits and, while Get Behind Me Satan isn’t over produced, it seems that time and money have stripped it of the glint in its eye.
The Devil, as any fool knows, has all the best tunes; Jack White might want to keep him a little closer.
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