It’s been a while since we heard from Detroit’s favorite brother/sister, ex husband/wife duo The White Stripes, and in the time since their last album, Get Behind Me Satan, they both waved good bye to the Motor City. Jack, his lovely wife and their new child moved to the Dirty South, Nashville to be exact. And Meg packed her bags and followed me out to Los Angeles. No, not really but it would be cool if it was true—if only.
Before going to Tennessee, White formed The Raconteurs and released Broken Boy Soldiers of which I wasn’t really a fan. I enjoyed the first single “Steady as She Goes” and “Blue Vein” but that’s it. Maybe it was the fact that White’s buddy, who I never really cared for, Brendan Benson shared co-writing and vocals with Jack. It just never really hit nor shook me like a White Stripes album does. And that’s the problem that most artists face when they start a new project away from their familiar confines. The baggage and greatness of their former selves overshadows their creative output, just as Macca, Johnny Marr and Robert Plant have proven, trying to escape their glory days.
So then comes the arrival of Icky Thump, and like the Stripes’ last release, I was excited about the prospect of another Jack and Meg collaboration. You see, as you read in my past review, I loved Get Behind Satan. I thought that record was where The White Stripes peaked with their red and white prowess. It was such a unique album, so honest, pure and raw away from the electricity of Elephant that it still is to this day my favorite record of theirs. So to best that would be quite a feat.
Instead of topping Satan, Jack and Meg went off and resurrected the old school spirit of the Stripes in all their glory. Wow, what an album! It’s a fun record and you can hear the smile on their faces as Meg bangs away on her drums and Jack slays his guitar while singing his blues-inspired vocals. Although he’s living the dream, Jack White has the blues in his soul and he loves singing it to you and me. Thump is a treat, and these two always seem to surprise me by rising up and shredding my expectations. Check the way Jack tears away at a chord and holds it there while Meg thrashes her kit. Sounds like bliss to me and Thump delivers and lays it down for you and I to enjoy.
Jack continues his ongoing sonic tributes to Plant & Co. and he takes another page from Zoso‘s playbook. Can you feel him channeling Led Zep on the first single and title track of the album? It also sounds as if Ole Jack has gone politico taking a stand on our country’s controversial policy on immigration on us as he sings “why don’t you kick yrself out/ y’re an immigrant too.” In the video, you will even see a sign for the Great Wall of Mexico. I love the freaked out synth/keys solo towards the end of “Icky.” But the piano takes a back seat and unfortunately isn’t as prominent as it was on Satan.
The Stripes seem to have taken on a more global vibe, which began on the calypso trip on “The Nurse” from Satan. Listen for the mariachi horns on “The Conquest.” I like to think that Jack must have loved Mull of Kintyre growing up (obscure Macca reference—I had to do it) he adds a double shot of Scottish bag pipes on “Prickly Thorn but Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrew.” I love these new additions to the Stripes arsenal, as it shows that these Jack and Meg aren’t just riff and rim shot traditionalists. These two can incorporate new sounds to their already explosive musical canon.
But seriously, we all know that Jack White is a blues player at heart. Just check out “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” and get a history lesson that even Robert Johnson would sell his soul for. Yes, White is not only this good but he’s got Meg White, his beating soul by his side. She even sings in a sped up vocal on “St. Andrew” with said bagpipes in unison with her sticks and Jack’s killer chords.
Listen to Jack’s guitar work on his ode to married life on “I’m Slowly Turning Into You.” Along with the return of the funky organ sound The Whites create a new take on matrimony which Jack makes very alluring and true. I love the “happy ending” with the harmonious harmonies on the fade out. Nothing borrowed, it never fails, there’s always something new and innovative on a White Stripes record. Icky doesn’t let us down.
From the opening chords you can hear Meg and Jack becoming one as they trade lines on the ultimate track on Thump, “Rag and Bone.” Together they light the spark, rock the house and burn it down with solid jamming on this powerful track that is pure White Stripes. I feel like I am right there with Jack and Meg as they hunt for treasures from an antique junk dealer coming to life on a stereo near you. I could tell you about Jack’s sourly acidic lyrics which echo a past flame and failed love affair on the addictive “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told)” and the acoustic flavored “Effect and Cause” but the rhythmic style of the Stripes is what’s on display with Icky Thump. Along with Jack deep prose both are the ingredients that make-up the ying and yang of Jack and Meg and their red and white blues.
I think I need to shut up now so you can run out and pick up Icky and turn up the Thump to eleven. It is time to reclaim your faith in the Whites. Lose the trepidation I, myself, had before putting my ears to this newly born classic. Bow down and let their riffs and rhymes fill you up and reign over you.