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Is this the last album we are going to hear from the Stripes? With Meg hiding from the world (come back Meg, please!) it looks that way but I sincerley hope not. If this is the case however, what a record to go out on. It kicks in first off with the title track, Icky Thump, a shout it out loud anthemic track which is one of the stripes most strongest to date, in my opinion. Then goes into the great You don't know what love is (you just do as your told).. fantastic lyrics and a softer sound that the previous track, but just as stirring. All the track on this album offer something different, as with all the other Stripes albums. Never a band to produce one of those albums where you have no idea where one song finishes and the other starts. This album gives you a mix of blues punk rock and country in 13 perfect little masterpieces, finishing off with Effect and Cause, with great lyrics which are just so true!
The White Stripes are a band who prides themselves on their quirky, experimental music, being a breath of fresh air in the sometimes stagnant alternative rock music scene.
Consisting of the rather peculiar male and female combination of Jack and Meg White, one of the many whims of the band is whether they are brother and sister or not, with one story being that they were actually married at one point! Whilst Jack provides the lead vocals, synthesizer melodies and scorching guitar riffs, Meg is on drums and occasional does the backing vocals on a couple of tracks.
With their sixth studio album, 'Icky Thump' looming for release, my mind went back to 2005 when their previous album, 'Get Behind Me Satan' was released. I have to say that the White Stripes have a knack for releasing the most diversely mainstream first singles from their album. 'Blue Orchid' struck me straight away as being magnificent and a new, grittier sounding direction for the band.
So, I brought the album finding that I actually only liked that one track. The rest were - in my estimations - abysmal.
The idea of getting their next offering was a very back and forth decision. On the less positive side, I didn't want to face the utter disappointment of listening to a frankly crap album by the Detroit duo ever again; although some of their previous records have been a little bit of a mixed bag and followed a very similar structure (this being very much the case with 'White Blood Cells' and 'Elephant') I was still hesitant about going out and buying 'Icky Thump' due to the direness of the last album alone.
Yet, on a certainly more positive note, the album titled first single struck a chord with me; I loved the unique but slightly distorted sound riding against the screeching guitars and solid drum beats.
So - as a compromise - I put 'Icky Thump' on my Christmas list, hoping not to be disappointed.
And, for the most part, I certainly wasn't.
The album in itself consists of 13 tracks, which is a good length for any album. The track listing is as followed:
1. Icky Thump (4.14 minutes)
2. You Don't Know What Love Is (You just do as you're told) (3.54 minutes)
3. 300 MPH. Torrential Outpour Blues (5.28 minutes)
4. Conquest (2.48 minutes)
5. Bone Broke (3.14 minutes)
6. Prickly Thorn but Sweetly Worn (3.05 minutes)
7. St. Andrews (This Battle is in the Air) (1.49 minutes)
8. Little Cream Soda (3.45 minutes)
9. Rag and Bone (3.48 minutes)
10. I'm Slowly Turning Into You (4.34 minutes)
11. A Martyr For My Love For You (4.19 minutes)
12. Catch Hell Blues (4.18 minutes)
13. Effect and Cause (3.00 minutes)
As with all White Stripes albums, there are tracks that are significantly longer than others with some being minimalist but good all of the same.
Managing to reach #2 in the UK singles chart, 'Icky Thump' I think tells a very good story about the negative aspects of Immigration. Whilst I don't think the song is necessarily intended to air the bands political beliefs, the cracking third verse of 'White America want? Nothing better to do?/why don't you kick yourself out/you're an immigrant too?' is a poignant reminder about history that's been forgotten.
Marks out of 10: 10 - this was my favourite song of last year. Whilst the lyric are witty and slightly laughable if you choose to take it in that way, the synthesizer background makes this track stand out from the regular White Stripes songs that mainly stick the guitar and drums.
You Don't Know What Love Is (You just do as you're told):
Going back to a very similar formula as their previous tracks, 'You Don't Know What Love Is' focuses on the relationship between an arguing man and woman. It's not complicated either in terms of the music or the lyrics but I do like the backing vocals provided by drummer Meg here as it does compliment lead vocalists Jack quite well.
Marks out of 10: 8 - I wouldn't call it one of the bands best tracks but it is still enjoyable all the same and helps the listener get back into the vibe of the White Stripes. As the second single, it reached #18 in the UK.
300 MPH. Torrential Outpour Blues:
Taking a slightly softer approach, the third track's lyrics are a lot more melancholic than the previous two efforts. '300 MPH. Torrential Outpour Blues' appears to be written from the perspective of someone who is slowly turning mad and is perplexed by their surroundings. Jack's voice is very low, which incidentally work against the song as I don't think this idea got across as clearly as it could have.
Marks out of 10: 8 - another good track although without the lyrics, it may not be as clear to understand the intention behind it. Very Led Zeppish, me thinks.
Starting off with blaring trumpets and screaming guitars, 'Conquest' is the album's cover song. Originally written by Corky Robbins, the song is about role reversal and about men and women in general. This one is has the flaring guitar sounds and repetitive drum beats you would come to expect with the band.
Marks out of 10: 8.5 - I like the song but find that it gets jammed in my head for way too long!
'Bone Broke' is a very striking track on the album and takes what the band has previously done to a new level. The vocals sound to me to resemble that of a 1950's Jazz musician and the music sounds to have used a degree of back masking to produce the distorted and over bearing explosion of strong drum beats and guitar riffs.
Marks out of 10: 8.5 - experimental but very well made.
Prickly Thorn but Sweetly Worn:
I actually felt a shudder when listening to this song. It reminded me of those almost forgotten tracks from 'Get Behind Me Satan' with slightly corny filler lyrics and a bagpipe. Yes, don't adjust your computer screens; an American Alternative Rock band used bagpipes on one of its tracks! However, whilst it doesn't necessarily work throughout the song, it's actually one of the reasons I first liked the band; because they are idiosyncratic and unique and will try anything at least once!
Marks out of 10: 7.5 - a shamelessly sing-a-long track but certainly not their best! I have to say the false Scottish accent did very little by the woman to add to this track.
St. Andrews (This Battle is in the Air):
Written from the perspective of someone on a battle field 'St. Andres' for the most part is a bit pointless. The false Scottish accent did very little by the woman to add to this track and the dreaded bagpipes were back! The band usually has small skits on their albums but I really don't see what this one did to add anything to the album.
Marks out of 10: 6 - I didn't like the whole young girl speaking part on this song, in fact, it was quite irritating.
Little Cream Soda:
'Little Cream Soda' boasts a very addictive, screeching guitar melody which I adored; it made the song stand out despite the somewhat unimaginative drum pounding. It reminded me a little of 'Seven Nation Army', the bands first single from their fourth album 'Elephant' but on a much deeper, darker level. The song is about the transition from being a naive, self focused child into caring about the bigger picture of things, one example being forest fires.
Marks out of 10: 9 - although Jack speaks on this track which I don't usually like, I loved the juxtaposing between this and the overly heavy tune. One of the album's real winners.
Rag and Bone:
Spoken from the standpoint of two people who are selling trash to others, 'Rag and Bone's bouncy and guitar driven tune is the only thing that really saves it. I am not a particular fan of a story being told that unsubtly on an album and I don't think here that Meg's backing vocals added to the cause; on the bands other albums, her main singing parts I have found to be for the most part aggravating with the situation not changing on 'Icky Thump'.
Marks out of 10: 7 - quite forgettable.
I'm Slowly Turning Into You:
I first heard this track when the band did a live set for the BBC. As a live track, it stood out to me with its raw energy and raunchy guitar over tunes. I like the background speech on this because here it adds to the effect of madness which I think the group were trying to get across.
Marks out of 10: 9 - better live than on the album because I think it is more atmospheric but still a great number!
A Martyr For My Love For You:
Despite the religious connotations here, 'A Martyr For My Love For You' is very much about someone loving another so much that they'd walk away to prevent their hardship being inflicted on the other person. The synth interjections add to the more depressive tone of the track and Jack's solemn vocals proving that the band can do tracks that may not be as rock driven or loud.
Marks out of 10: 9 - I love the fact that towards the end of this track, it almost sounds like the song is going to step into an onslaught of heavy tunes but when it doesn't, it makes the song that much more tragic.
Catch Hell Blues:
Sounding a bit like a Hawaiian beach celebration gone wrong within the opening moments, 'Catch Hell Blues' swiftly turns into a track about someone running away from their own personal hell and encouraging others not to fall into the same troubles. The build up of the guitars may detract away from the lyrics which is the songs only real downfall.
Marks out of 10: 8.5 - the whole notion of Heaven and Hell is not one explored thoroughly by many rock artists but I think the White Stripes always manage to do it well.
Effect and Cause:
Going back to a more country based sound that many may expect of the duo, 'Effect and Cause' is a very easy track to end the album on. It's not too complicated lyrically and is one of those tracks which you just can't help but tap your toes too! All in all, not too bad but nothing ground breaking.
Marks out of 10: 7.5 - an OK way to end the album but it isn't anything that sticks in your mind as being a killer track or anything.
ARTWORK AND IMAGE
In terms of the artwork, the group have stuck with the colours of red, white and black which have been used throughout their decade together as a band. One of the other traits of the White Stripes is that their album's artwork is always deliberated over but made to look almost accidental.
The imagery is a mixture of photographs and drawn pictures, each fitting it with a particular song theme or idea. 'Effect and Cause' includes a lyric about the morality of babies being blamed for ruining a woman's life, hence the background picture of a baby in a womb. The costumes that the band are wearing this time to promote the album look very similar to that someone would wear whilst bull fighting, complete with hats and rhinestones. Nice.
As always, a message by Jack (or III as he is more commonly known as) is included in the booklet. The weird topic of impressionism has managed to crop up with the lead vocalist and songwriters thought on the subject, providing a good introduction before the album starts. The lyrics are also included, and if you've read my other music reviews, you know how much that impresses me!
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
As the album was released on June 18th of 2007, it isn't that difficult to get a hold of a copy;
Play.com - £7.99 (free delivery)
HMV.co.uk - £6.99 (free delivery)
Amazon.co.uk - £7.98 (eligible for super saver delivery)
Cdwow.co.uk - £11.49 (free delivery)
Dvd.co.uk - £7.99 (free delivery)
Overall, I would have to say that I recommend 'Icky Thump' as being an incredibly diverse album with many good, solid, memorable rock tracks by the Detroit duo.
Although it doesn't sound like the group has evolved that much over time, after such a terrible album as 'Get Behind Me Satan', I would never have expected them to produce the incredible 'Icky Thump' which is pure guitar heaven or the rather exceptional 'Little Cream Soda'.
If you have never heard on of the bands albums before, I would perhaps recommend 'Elephant' before you buy this one. 'Elephant' was the first album I owned by the White Stripes, after I fell head over heels in love with 'Seven Nation Army' and 'Black Math' and it's a good one to really tell that the band are full of contradictions and variety, ranging from dirty rock anthems to softer country and blues influences.
Oh and am I looking forward to hearing the bands next offer? Let's just say this; the future's looking red, white and black!
(Note: This was previously written and displayed on Ciao by myself MizzMolko).
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Icky Thump
2 You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)
3 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues
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