Greetings faithful readers! I know it’s been too long since we’ve last exchanged contact so here I am to rectify the situation (as per future GM’s orders…). Anywho, enjoy this gem of a story by Mr. Tim Elliott. He’s going to be teacher so you know this is going to be good!

–Megan

Foreword by the Jelliott himself:

Due to a combination of low paying jobs and low motivation I usually don’t pick up all of the hyped new releases. With this column, I’ll procure well reviewed and interesting albums that have slipped past me in the past few years or so and write them up.
One of the major benefits of this strategy is that I’ll be able to incorporate some of the criticism/hype from around the actual time of release and see if the music measures up to it.

The White Stripes “Icky Thump” (June 19th, 2007)

While the increased diversity in ways to listen to, find out about and buy music is certainly a good thing, sometimes the sheer number of bands available prevents any sort of cultural unity. While most critics and fans can agree on a list of the top 10 classic rock bands by decade or half decade, a similar feat would be almost impossible for the music pioneered during the current generation. Too many different styles and personalities to agree upon. Too few musical giants.
Rising above this general confusion are rare, high profile bands like the White Stripes, who are known to virtually every rock fan from the alternative rock-radio junkie to the indie snob. The band garnered a high profile with their third album, 2001’s White Blood Cells, a critical and commercial slam dunk. To secure their position, the band became rock megastars by turning up the guitars on 2004’s justly praised Elephant.
Though following the odd-ball pop of 2005’s marimba-driven Get Behind Me Satan they were on the cusp of irrelevance for most rock fans; likely to be remembered as a band of promise that didn’t quite fulfill their rock star potential and became a serviceable, accessible cult act. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but most of the scattered contemporary artists can be described in such a fashion. So the question remains, can the band stay relevant or will they stick to the marimba?
And that brings us to our first entry,2007’s Icky Thump. Rolling Stone loves to make it sound like Jack White somehow released a mainstream monster with this record, and although they are correct about Jack White’s relative embrace of the mainstream, this ain’t Journey or Nickleback folks. Huge guitars aside, we’re still talking about a band that appears in concert in a candy stripped dress code and scrawls obtuse, wordy essays in their liner notes. Though there may be less marimba, and fewer obscure classic Hollywood references in the lyrics, the record contains quirks aplenty.

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Though some of the time the big “rock star” guitars do over power the underlying the tuneful, poppy goofiness that was the hall mark of Get Behind Me’s best songs a glance through the lyrics sheet reveals that White has lost none of what made him an “artist.” Instead he has learned to combine his trademark quasi-poetic story telling with catchy instrumentals that uses squelcy guitar solos and riffs to drive the point home, abetted by some quirky synthesizer to add texture and grandeur.
The songs on Thump are more reluctant to reveal their quirks, but after multiple listens, it becomes clear that White hasn’t dumbed down at all. while the chorus to “Rag and Bone” rocks as hard as anything they’ve recorded, the ring-master style barked verses, complimented by Meg’s goofy coos, make for quite an odd juxtaposition of hilarious sing-speak and angsty chorus. Perhaps more representative of the album, the stomping title track engages the listener with a thumping guitar boogie and challenging, vague lyrics about an encounter with a questionable Mexican female, among other topics. The bizzarro word play and bone crunching guitars on “I’m Slowly Turnin’ Into You” seem to
benefit from White’s improved sense of song-craft. Occasionally prone to waste a memorable riff on a less than memorable song, White has harnessed his shouted vocals to tell a pretty convincing story of a knotty relationship, using a progressivly increasing glut of details (and the occasional bit of fuzzed out fret work) to transform a potential throw-away into an album highlight.
What Rolling Stone got right was that this is probably the best album to use as an introduction for new fans of the band. “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told),” is probably the band’s best straight up rock song on the album, if not their entire catalogue; its tuneful chorus and direct, Southern rock tinges compliment White’s vision, resulting an end product that would sound cozy on most classic rock playlists, a fact that no doubt has Jack White beaming with pride. Such lofty status also applies to “A Martyr For My Love For You” White’s most straight forward song about relationships that combines his typically conflicted attitude about love with some Tom Petty indebted story telling.
Since his work on the Cold Mountain soundtrack, White has also branched out into performing American folk music. Wisely relegating his rootsy performances to individual songs, White’s secondary obsession makes the album more listenable. Directly following relatively straight-forward head banger “Bone Broke” is the folksy bagpipe work out “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn.”
The ‘Stripes haven’t “sold out” by any convention of the word. Following Led Zeppelin’s lead, they’ve wisely packaged their more experimental music alongside their more accessible songs. Each song prompts you to wonder “What’s Next?” I can’t wait for their Physical Graffiti.

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