The White Stripes – Get Behind Me Satan

The White Stripes
Get Behind Me Satan

Hold on… is that a F-ing Marimba? Who disbanded the Seven-Nation Army? What should we expect from a guy who named an album after an obscure early 20th-century art movement? When Jack White dropped 2002’s vastly overlooked De Stijl, which played like a viscerally satisfying graduate musicology survey in blues composition, we should have seen Get Behind Me Satan coming. De stijl – the movement, not the album – excluded all decoration, all shades but primary colors. All but inevitable then that White would eventually strip away his band’s own sound. In other words, get behind me, transitional album.

Get Behind Me Satan may be Jack White’s first full-fledged gesture towards the wider world of singer/songwriter territory, but it’s also his most bleak and unwavering. On tracks like the superb trio of “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t that Lonely Yet),” “White Moon,” and “As Ugly as I Seem” White seems less concerned with stripping rock down to its graveyard-blues rudiments, at which he’s a g-darn master, than with exploring its darkly melodic potentialities.

There’s a certain tension to Get Behind Me, which finds White uneasily expanding his already-considerable musical palette. On White Blood Cells and the instant classic, Elephant, blues and punk met on the crossroads and made a shadowy midnight pact. Here, musical genres are pitted against each other, as if White’s trusty slide guitar just didn’t conjure the blues for him anymore. The revelation: White’s sonic searching only intensifies this album’s lonesome, yearning allure. On “The Nurse,” the island-spiced marimba and shaker are undercut by crashing power chords. The mandolin-laced Americana romp of “Little Ghost” precedes the walking blues and R&B tinctures of “The Denial Twist.” The ghostly piano and cymbals of “White Moon” is sandwiched next to the undersexed electric blues lament of “Instinct Blues.”

Much remains of White’s uncanny ability to construct virile and punkified blues romps. The album’s first single, the shattering “Blue Orchid,” along with “Instinct Blues” and the hard-driving “Red Rain,” will certainly not disappoint casual fans. But, both more deeply melodic and somehow more resigned and melancholy than his previous albums, White’s latest may just be his best. Ironic that an album recorded and written in a proscribed two-week period is rife with White’s most advanced melodies to date. Get Behind Me Satan is carved out of a wide swath of Americana – high-toned acoustic guitar, marimba and piano, not the tools of a neo-blues punk. Done with the crossroads, White’s left the musical confines of his Detroit delta and set off to become his generation’s lonely troubadour.