Music Reviews
Icky Thump

White Stripes Icky Thump

(Warner Bros. Records) Rating - 5/10

Three albums into the post-White Blood Cells trilogy, The White Stripes seems to be in the full swing of a decline. Pegged as a back-to-basics record by the Peppermint Gang, Icky Thump is an anti-climatic, vaguely appealing record that unfortunately feels like a retreat from the ballsy piano-based pop eccentricity of Get Behind Me Satan. And that's a shame because going back to basics - at least in this case - feels like surrender.

Oh, sure, there are risks taken on Icky Thump, but the joy of listening to The White Stripes has always been the group's ramshackle charm. On Icky Thump, Jack White indulges his worst predilections - and the record suffers for it.

Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn is about as pretentious and unnecessary as anything you'll hear all year. The Scottish-folk doesn't fit a band much more suited for more typical blues/country fare. Like The Rolling Stones' ill-fated 1967 record, Their Satanic Majesties Request -- where Mick and company attempted psychedelic rock as a pale reaction to Sgt Pepper's -- The White Stripes steps way out of its comfort zone. The band may not be copying anyone, but Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn is a similarly ill-advised genre experiment. For a band as deeply rooted in roots rock, dalliances like this shouldn't be taken lightly.

The first four tracks, however, are sincerely sublime. From the opening chords of Icky Thump -- where Jack justifies the bagpipe -- to the machine-gun guitar/trumpet mariachi duel on Conquest the Stripes are on top of their game.

You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told) sticks out as the best of the bunch in the opening quintet of tracks. The melody is the best since We're Gonna Be Friends; the lyrics are ingeniously tossed-off; and the shrieking, squalling, buzz-saw guitar solo is high on the frets and higher on the adrenaline - Jack White's best solo since all of Elephant.

But then the band starts to trip - so badly that the next three tracks compete for the title of Worst White Stripes Tracks of the Band's Career. The song-speak Meg White track, St. Andrew (The Battle is in the Air), should never have been recorded, much less released.

For the first time in the duo's career, listening to a White Stripe's record doesn't give you a fly-on-the-wall feeling; Icky Thump feels like a bastard child of the unholy marriage between White's analog-is-God philosophy and a bloated Warner Brothers Records budget.

Both Bone Broke and Little Cream Soda suffer the labors of the unimaginative production and Jack White's more unimaginative songwriting - particularly in the chunky, labored riffs.

On Rag & Bone, Jack White manages to define The White Stripes as a band - all their faults and all their strengths: "You sure you don't want it?/If it's just things that you don't want, I can use 'em/Meg can use 'em./We can do something with 'em./We'll make something out of 'em./ Make some money out of 'em, at least."

I'm not sure what he's talking about, but Jack might as well be referring to himself. He's a virtuoso at playing other people's music, ideas and riffs. He' taken recycled ideas and filtered them through his sharply refined pop and art sensibilities, and out comes a platinum record. It is both the White Stripes' greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

While Effect and Cause continues a long tradition of brilliant capstone tracks on White Stripes albums, Icky Thump still leaves a bad feeling in the mouth.

When did The White Stripes turn into the The Black Keys?