"Icky Thump," the White Stripes
The mumbo jumbo surrounding the White Stripes is by now well known: Band members Jack White and Meg White are a divorced couple who refer to themselves as siblings; they're troglodytes, slavishly devoted to vintage gear; and you'll never see them wearing anything but red, white and black. ("Why would we be so bourgeois as to all of a sudden wear blue and green?" Jack recently asked an interviewer.) But, really, who cares? Was Foghat's fashion sense so heavily scrutinized? Was BTO burdened by self-mythology? Those aren't blind comparisons, either. For all their arty affectations, the White Stripes are basically blues-based hard rockers, far more in the tradition of Deep Purple than De Stijl (the Dutch art movement that gave the band's second album its name).
So forget about the band's new "Icky Thump," as a piece of fine art. How is it as a slab of rock? Well, it's harder and heavier than anything else the duo have ever done. Songs like the funky, metallic "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" and the creepy "A Martyr for My Love for You" combine Jack White's meatiest riffs with a newfound appreciation for groovy keyboard textures that deepen, but don't soften, the band's crunching sound. Meg White has stepped up her game too. In the past her one-two beats have tippy-toed between simple and simplistic, but throughout "Icky Thump" she matches Jack's guitar every stomp for glorious stomp. On the album's eponymous first single, Jack's muscular riffing and Meg's smashing drum work demolish any hope of resistance.
Resistance is a subject Jack White knows well. Whether it's wrestling with a neglectful deity on "Little Cream Soda" ("God screams to me/ There's nothing left for me to tell you") or his own material desires on "Rag and Bone" ("Come on and give it to me!"), "Icky Thump's" songs break down, with a few exceptions, to a catalog of denials and sacrifices. On the two or three songs where some slightly sub-excellent music can't compensate for the whining, Jack comes across as, well, a bit of a drip. But those scattered moments aside, "Icky Thump" is so vital and rocking it makes the band's preoccupation with high art and higher ideals seem silly. Who cares about colors when the music's this good?
Favorite Track: "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You're Told)"
-- David Marchese