Saturday, June 23, 2007

White Stripes - Icky Thump

I’ve been listening to the new White Stripes album a lot lately and it seems to have made an impact with our four-year old. As we drove to daycare this morning, I turned on the CD player and heard E make a request from his car seat.
“Play Yucky Hump, Daddy.”
That’s four-year old speak for the Stripes’ great new album Icky Thump.
To be honest, I think I overrated their last effort, perhaps because it sounded like they were trying to expand their sound and continue with a creative progression. Today, particularly after hearing Icky Thump and Jack’s Raconteurs side-project from last year, it sounds more like he was feeling confined with the duo format and was trying anything to light a fire under him.
It appears that the time spent with The Raconteurs was the fire that he needed; Icky Thump sounds refreshed, vital, and true to the lineage that has made them one of America’s finest rock bands around.
It also sounds awesome, as in fidelity-wise; the album jumps out of the speakers and is full of dimension. The music is full of spectrum and depth and is one of the better sounding albums that I’ve heard in quite a while.
And Jack’s guitar tone has developed some personality as well. It fluctuates, suddenly, from a dirty vintage model to a trebly distorted freakout that’s as unique as some of those one-of-a-kind tones found on the Nuggets compilation.
After a while, the lack of versatility in his tone is kind of a hindrance; initially you’re drawn to it, only to feel like it’s overstaying its welcome after about the fourth time you’ve heard it. A wider selection of guitar tones would have been preferred, particularly after considering how many different genres that White touches upon throughout Icky Thump.
Thankfully, the album is sequenced in such a way that it actually feels like a proper album and, by design, those trainwrecks-of-a-styles seem tolerable and downright exciting.
After a few songs of incessant riffage, a cover of Patti Page’s “Conquest” appears with over-the-top mariachi horns that seem woefully out of place at first before you finally admit that it was a pretty clever maneuver. By the time Jack starts a guitar solo dual with the trumpet, it’s become one of your favorite tracks on the record.
As does the dumpster-diving anthem “Rag & Bone” which should bring a smile to anyone who’s ever lived in a college town (or any town that has a yearly city-wide clean up day) and remembers all of the slow moving vehicles eyeballing the mounds of discarded items piled up by the curb. It would always amaze me how small that mound got before the sanitation department came to take it away.
“The riff” is the common thread that holds Icky Thump together while also being the main point of infatuation. It’s a much better album than Get Behind Me Satan and one that rivals Elephant. The important thing for me is that it sounds like a move forward from those albums as well, which hopefully means that Jack White won’t feel constrained by the two-man format going forward. Even bands with double the line-up and similar inspirations (I’m looking at you Mooney Suzuki) would have a hard time coming up with an album as challenging, heavy, and fun as what Jack and Meg have managed with Icky Thump.

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