The White Stripes – Icky Thump
Record Label – Warner Bros. Records
Release Date – 15 June 2007
Remember 2001? If you listened to the radio or watched MTV, you’ll remember being bombarded with a wave of what became known as “The” bands. As in “The” Strokes, “The” Vines, “The” Hives and, of course “The” White Stripes. These so-called garage rock revivalists came at you hard with their lo-fi approach, sounding like the local high school band but way, way better. They were a much-needed kick in the ass to the Blink-182-dominated airwaves.
Now, it’s 2007 and the airwaves are beset by Blink-182 pop-punk progeny (although now with a new “emo” twist!). What ever happened to those “The” bands that were supposed to save rock? Well, The Hives went the way of the tyrannosaurus (get it?), The Vines shriveled up and died, and The Strokes are busy singing about Hi-C containers and getting middling reviews for their albums. That leaves Meg and Jack White, America’s favorite siblings-cum-ex-lovers rock duo, also known as The White Stripes. They alone of the “The” bands have remained a relevant force on the rock landscape, as their latest, Icky Thump, beyond a doubt proves.
Icky Thump is a powerful album, and the brainchild of one of rock’s most powerful men: Jack White. Simply put, Jack White is rock n’ roll right now. I defy anyone to name an individual more influential and prodigious than Mr. White at the moment. Starting with the Stripes’ 2001 breakthrough White Blood Cells, White has reeled off (what will be) four massively successful White Stripes albums, won three Grammys, formed the Detroit-based supergroup The Raconteurs with Brendan Benson, and sold countless millions of albums. That is an impressive resume. That said, the Stripes’ latest may be the best of the bunch.
The album’s title track (and first single) comes equipped with one of the most memorable hooks in recent memory, reminding everyone right off the bat that Jack White is one of the most talented contemporary guitarists around. I mean, this is a track that is just begging for inclusion in Guitar Hero III. Also impressive are the keys, which lend the track a quasi-funky edge as Jack rails against America’s immigration laws. And, while easy to overlook, Meg White’s drumming provides a rock solid backbone to the track. All in all, this is probably the best opening track of the year so far, setting the tone for the (mostly) raucous ride ahead.
Departing from the high-production, even-keeled aesthetic of Get Behind Me Satan, the Stripes go back to their roots with a more lo-fi, high-octane line of attack. Tracks such as “Conquest” and “Bone Broke” scorch and blister; Jack White puts the pedal to the floor and never lets up, showcasing some impressive shredding skills. “Rag & Bone” is a raw, almost punkish track with Meg on background vocals. “Little Cream Soda” features epic riffs, blitzkrieg drumming and another dash of those keys, and is definitely one of the album’s highlights
But Jack White is never one to stick to one musical styling. He slows down for a few tracks—“You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told)” is a more laid back, bluesy number that’s instantly hummable and “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” is an organ-backed lament—but even those tracks are marked by occasional fits of tumult. “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpoor Blues” (on the shortlist for coolest track title of the year) is another one like this, going from calm to rowdy to back again.
Adding to the eclectic theme here is the wide array of instruments used. Not merely content with the guitar n’ drums combo that made the duo famous, the Stripes experiment liberally here. The aforementioned keys are on more tracks than not, and the band experiments with trumpet (“Conquest”), mandolin and bagpipe (“Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn”/”St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air”), resulting in some of the most interesting songs the band has yet written. “Conquest” is almost operatic in scope, featuring over-the-top vocals and a guitar/trumpet clash, while “Prickly”/”St. Andrew” hearkens back to the more whimsical Led Zeppelin tracks (think “Battle of Evermore”).
Flitting effortlessly from twangy blues to 1970s-influenced rock to metal-tinged powerhouses, Icky Thump is mish-mash of styles, instrumentations and tones. Each song, no matter how different, is no less successful than the last—there really is no weak track on the album. The production is restrained—the whole thing sounds like Jack and Meg went into the studio, jammed for half a day, and then left with a record. I mean this in the best possible way: there are no tell-tale producer’s flourishes or unnecessary polish; the album feels genuine. And that has long been the Stripes’ trademark: genuine American rock n’ roll. As such, score one more for the home team, as The White Stripes’ new album is one of the best of the year.
sounds awesome. I like The White Stripes but strangely never bought an album from them, maybe I'll start here.
for some reason i'm the same way. i don't know why i never bought an album from them before, especially since i've given most of the albums i bought in the past a spin or two and let them collect dust on my shelf. this sounds like a purchase i won't regret as much.
Damn good review, son. You really gave this album all the credit it deserves (which is quite a bit). First White Stripes album I've ever listened to, and it does not disappoint. I'm gonna have to get into some of their older shit.
this album is as golden as you describe it to be. i cant stop listening to it. and jack white is definitly the most powerful rocker right now. hes doing things so creative and out of the box, a living legend. great review