The White Stripes – Icky Thump

The White Stripes
Icky Thump

Remarkably consistent, utterly musical and traditionally focused, The White Stripes are certainly worthy of any of these compliments. With Icky Thump they have proven, yet again, that being musically sound in both songwriting and craftsmanship, while knowing how to exercise instrumentation is key in making a solid album in today’s day and age. And their new one is filled with a lot of the same elements that have made the Detroit duo one of the finest acts in rock and roll.

There is no shortage of great songs here; everything from the organ-infused title track, to the playful, spoken-word jam, “Rag and Bone,” to the gritty, thumping, “Little Cream Soda” — The White Stripes do it all. They even go as far as to feature bagpipes during the mini-suite of “Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn” and “St. Andrews (This Battle is in the Air).”

This feat of skillful consistency, to be able to make album after album and each one still sound so good is unparalleled. Let me see if I can try to pin-point what it is. It’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page all wrapped into one, after that add Muddy Waters, Hank Williams and Chuck Berry and that covers most of what people love about rock and roll. And you get that each and every time they release a new album.

This is a mind-blowing album because instead of just following the imprint of their erstwhile albums—which are all very good, if not totally original — they try new things. One aspect that might separate this album a bit, from the others, would the production. Meg White’s drums are considerably louder than before, especially on “300 M.P.H. Torrential Blues” and “Catch Hell Blues.” Jack White also seems a bit more obsessed with the higher end of the register of his instrument of choice (whether it’s guitar, piano, organ) and this is apparent throughout the whole album.

The aforementioned “Catch Hell Blues” with its religious references is a gem as the penultimate song. It features that loud drumming and a guitar that is as catchy and melodic as anything they have ever done. If anything, this album confirms that The White Stripes’ songs have always been built around Jack’s killer vocals and melodies.

The special moment on the album — for me at least — is the Patti Page cover of “Conquest” (originally written by Corky Robbins.) The song begins with a mariachi-style trumpet that radiantly works in the theme of the song. Word was that while the Stripes were recording this album in Nashville they found trumpet player Regulo Aldama playing on a corner and got him to come and lay down the trumpet part. He obviously nailed it and the battle featuring him and Jack’s screeching guitar is memorable, to say the least. It opens a new side to the Stripes while re-affirming another: that they can take covers and turn them into something that is solely theirs. Genuine evidence of true, talented musicians at work and although it’s a bit more evident here, the magic happens throughout the entire album.