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The White Stripes' 6th album. Released June 19th 2007, two years after their near-platinum-selling Get Behind Me Satan.

AND THIS OLD MAN IN FRONT OF ME
HOLDING CANES AND WEARING RUBY RINGS
IS LIKE CONTAINING AN EXPLOSION WHEN HE SINGS
BUT WITH EVERY CHANCE TO SET HIMSELF ON FIRE
HE JUST ENDS UP DOING THE SAME THING

WELL EVERY BEAUTIFUL THING I COME ACROSS
TELLS ME TO STOP MOVING AND SHAKE THIS RIDDLE OFF
OH WELL.

For 10 years now, The Stripes have been playing their signature sound-- Zeppelinesque rock & blues-- for audiences around the world. Most of you probably have a solid idea in your mind right now of how the White Stripes play a song: Jack blasts through guitar riffs of an unimaginable, stereo-destroying intensity and shouts bluesy lyrics straight into the mic, while Meg hits the drums really, really hard. Maybe you're hearing the opening bass hook of "Seven Nation Army" right now, or Jack's crazy-simple improv on "Hello Operator". Well... trash that notion.

With Icky Thump, Jack & Meg are doing some active destruction to their carefully hewn image, and branching out in new directions.

Looking back on their first 5 records, you can hear it as a developing trend. Each Stripes album has had at least one oddball track, and Get Behind Me Satan had several. But I think nobody except Jack & Meg-- who famously avoid interviews-- could've guessed the non-stop oddity of this new release. To say the least, it's a well-named album.*

If you consider the White Stripes to be a landmark rock band (like I do) then this is the equivalent to Muddy Waters going electric, or The Beatles going psychedelic with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's too soon to guess quite where The Stripes are going now, but "going esoteric" might be one way to phrase it.

Here's a tracklist for reference:

  1. Icky Thump
  2. You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)
  3. 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues
  4. Conquest
  5. Bone Broke
  6. Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn
  7. St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)
  8. Little Cream Soda
  9. Rag and Bone
  10. I'm Slowly Turning Into You
  11. A Martyr for My Love For You
  12. Catch Hell Blues
  13. Effect and Cause

It's not so much that they're doing something completely new. They're just doing things that are new for this band. The Stripes have always worked within a limited musical palette-- for a lot of people, it's what made the White Stripes the White Stripes-- symbolized by their pervasive red, white & black motif. Icky Thump breaks out of it. Big time.

I mean, "St. Andrew" has a psychedelic bagpipe solo on it, fer gawd's sake. "Conquest" features a Mexican big-brass section. "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" uses tape-loop vocal effects, and many tracks make use of less-obvious studio trickery. (For instance, "A Martyr..." has Jack on guitar mixed over top of Jack playing the Hammond organ)

Jack White sings throughout more often than he screams, including on "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues" (weirdly, one of the slowest tunes on the album). "Prickly Thorn" doesn't even come to a hard stop at the end-- rare for the iPod-friendly Stripes-- and instead mutates off into a surreal soundscape a la Sufjan Stevens.

Thankfully, it's not all avante garde (and even the nouveau stuff ain't half bad, if you're open-minded). The song "Rag and Bone" was released as a limited edition 7" in the UK, a nod I think to long-time fans; it's the track that sticks closest to the duo's original sound, and (IMO) the album's best. "Bone Broke" is another straight-up rock song and "Little Cream Soda"'s a head-banger for sure.

WE WANNA GET IT GRANNY
WHILE IT'S HOT
YOU THINK IT'S TRASH GRANNY
BUT IT'S NOT
A WE'LL BE TAKIN'
WHATEVER YOU GOT
A GIVE UP, A GIVE UP, A GIVE UP
C'MON AND IT GIVE IT TO US

RAG AND BONE!
ALL OF YOUR PRETTY
YOUR PRETTY LITTLE RAGS AND BONES

I'm not saying it's a purchase you'll regret. Far from it. But prepare to be shocked a couple times. Long time Stripes fans: Prepare to hate at least one song on this album-- something you ain't used to-- and hate songs that other people love.

Trash or treasure, it's an album I'd still recommend; it left me confused as to what the band will do next but, like always, desperately craving more.

* "Ecky thump!" is a northern English expression that means, roughly: "Bloody hell!"

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