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Review: The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan

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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.

Read more of Greg’s reviews at Swing Batter Batter!

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About Greg Smyth

  • http://www.temptationwaits.com visualsimplicity

    Wait, so is the Chris Martin reference a comparison of their positions in music or in celebrity status?

    Frankly, I don’t think Chris Martin is in Jack White’s league in terms of creativity in music, especially after the 12 tracks of “Clocks” that was X&Y. And even though I don’t think Get Behind Me Satan was at the level of Elephant, I could still hear the musical creativity of their songs (such as “Little Ghost”).

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    So how does it compare against the earlier albums? I liked the last two or three but I heard from others that this one is not as good.
    It sounds like you’re saying I’d probably be disappointed.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Cheers for the comments…

    VS, by the opening sentence I meant in terms of celebrity status. I’m not much of a Coldplay fan, personally.

    Scott, I was in the same position as you and have to say I was very disappointed with GBMS. However, plenty of people have told me in no uncertain terms that I’m completely wrong in my assessment of the album.

  • stu

    gbms is an album for interesting listening. it might not be the best ws effort, and its not hard to tell some of the songs where not finneshed by the time recording started(blue orchid).
    but this album cirtainly shows that the ws have the potential to go even futher. which is amazing for only two people. and gbms definatly shows jacks creativity.
    my verdict is that ws had so much new material to try they couldnt decide what to put on the album and where still coming up with new ideas during recording. i cant wait for the next album.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    You bring up a question I’ve wondered: Have they explained why they don’t add a third person to the band? I know for a while there was a guy on the net who was mixing their songs with his music in sort of a forced odd attempt to get hired.

  • http://www.temptationwaits.com visualsimplicity

    I believe it’s because in order to open up their creativity, they limit themselves to basically 2 instruments. Either guitar/drum, piano/drum, or whatever else Jack plays/drum. Plus, they are very adamant about the idea that The White Stripes is Meg and Jack and nothing else. They each may have side projects, but The White Stripes will forever be just the 2 of them.

    I think Jack explains it all in his Rolling Stone Interview.

  • http://www.thebmrant.com Matt

    This work of yours now has another venue for success – and more eyes – at the Advance.net Web sites, a place affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

    Also please let your contact know, if you had one, that this article, is published at one more place. That helps a lot.

    Thank you.
    Matt Freelove

  • Peter Cla

    This review of White Stripes GBMS is pathetic. Comparing them to Cold Play is like comparing Apples to Oranges.

    The review is about singles? ie, there is no Seven Nation Army?

    Guve me a break. Seven Nation Army is a good tune, but does not even come close to My Doorbell or Red Rain.

    The reviewer really should stick to reviewing brit pop versus a real rock and roll band.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Glad you liked it. Heh.

    If you’d taken the time to read the damn thing (or even the comment above) you’d have realised that the Coldplay comparison was in terms of fame, not musical style.

    As for The White Stripes being somehow “real rock and roll”. You make it sound like they’re some kind of sleazecore metal outfit rather than the affable indie-rock duo they really are.

    And, My Doorbel… don’t make me laugh. I’ve shat better songs.

  • http://swingbatterbatter.blogspot.com Greg Smyth

    Doorbell, obviously…

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Greg — I’m one of those perhaps rare folks who absolutely loves about half of every White Stripes album. So on that score, Satan is no different for me. What I love, I can’t imagine not having on my semi-permanent playlist, and what I don’t I can easily live without.

    While I’ll gladly agree that the White Stripes are a lovely indie-rock duo, I must counter on My Doorbell that, in my opinion, it’s a gloriously ebuilliant rocker. You might be able to shat out better, but I dare say 99.9% of the other humans cannot. Consider that The Beatles got blasted for their “simplicity” in their day.

    My favorite track by far, however, is The Denial Twist, which just rocks into a new dimension of glory be to thee and thou.

    In my opinion!

  • emelia

    to all those criticising jack white shame on u i think hes the greatest just cos this albums diferent it doesnt mean its bad i bought it and its really good the songs r sooo catchy
    ps:jacks a hottie

  • emelia

    i totally agree denial twist is great

  • emelia

    person who doesnt like my doorbell ur shat must be the greatest thing ive ever heard
    ps:jacks a hottie

  • stu

    why does nearly everyone in the whole world say that ws are an indie band. go to hell they aint. thay have thier own style of making music, and with such a diversity of sounds produced by jack and meg they cannot really be included in any of the music categories(indie, rock, pop, metal, blues) they are however a proggressive band. progressing from blues. but because of the range of sounds produced by jack and meg, they are not prog rock.

    stop calling them indie. stereophinics and travis are indie.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Indie is usually a wide designation meant to denote “not mainstream” or “independent” from corporate/commercial influence. So I don’t see it as a bad label at all.

    That said, I love diverse the WS are — I think as with most bands of their calibar/range, they’re rarely given credit for this diversity of talent.

  • jeremy

    at first listen gbms, did not connect with me like previous albums, but like all great albums it grows on you. add seeing them perform on the latest tour, and it is easy to see jack white is a genius.