The White Stripes Icky Thump

[Warner Bros.; 2007]

Styles: blues-rock, Scottish slide-guitar, Detroit fuzz flamenco
Others: Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Anthology of American Folk Music

Though Rolling Stone magazine may have buckled under the pressure of socio-musical shifts in the past two decades, I recently came across something interesting in their pages. At the close of his Icky Thump review, respected critic Robert Christgau writes: “Like his sometime heroes Led Zeppelin, Jack White builds monuments. They’re suitable for awestruck visitors. But they’re no place to settle down.” I couldn’t agree more.

You can’t cozy up with a White Stripes album; you can’t nudge into their mythology and nestle. What you can do is gnarl at their aluminum sound. You can shudder at Jack White’s blues. You can succumb to their steam, collapse with their stadium rafters, and seethe with their raw energy. Icky Thump is a series of monuments -- brace yourself with rods, bones, and galvanized steel if you intend to view them.

Icky Thump, the band’s sixth album (believe it or not), is an intercontinental tour with few reprieves. Three weeks in Nashville at Blackbird Studios with a portrait of Charley Patton hanging overhead somehow brought them to England, Scotland, and Mexico. Armed with an analog synthesizer (the sci-fi-sounding Univox), the band Americanizes a Yorkshire colloquialism and invents “Icky Thump” — one drubbing of an album opener — an eye opener. Jack stakes his most political statement since 1999’s “The Big Three Killed My Baby” firmly in dusty dirt at the U.S.-Mexico border; it’s immigration reform by way of gypsy solvents and solutions. [Call this their Statue of Liberty.]

If you’re fond of the curious, Icky Thump is the choice White Stripes album. An oddity such as “The Nurse” apparently wasn’t enough for Jack and Meg. This diverse collection offers crotchets of many kinds, echoing off the staggering walls built by Harry Smith’s conglomeration of folk ditties. “Conquest” is a rendition of the Patti Page gung-ho charge, and it features mariachi horns combating Jack’s wail. [A monolith beside a pueblo.] “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” is a tracing of tree roots all the way back to Scotland. With bagpipe blows, the band explores the power and dangers of the thistle. [A cenotaph somewhere near Edinburgh.] “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In the Air)” follows and is a quirky prayer, an awkward genuflect, and another opportunity for Meg to chatter at Jack’s behest. The White Stripes rely on a church organ like the remains of saints in basilicas — stuffed into sarcophaguses. [Obviously, a mausoleum.]

“Rag and Bone” ships the band to England again, where they scrounge and scamp in an effort to increase one of the most expansive junk collections Detroit has ever seen. [You can’t miss the obelisk.] “A Martyr for My Love for You” sounds like cousin to Dylan’s “Love Sick” (which the band has covered on many occasions); its lyrics may be Jack’s finest yet. He teeter-totters on the dandle board, balancing between statutory rape and young love of the Jerry Lee Lewis ilk. [Clearly the band’s Great Wall of China or Berlin Wall.]

People gawk at the monuments The White Stripes construct. Loitering teens vandalize them with aerosol spray and gum wads. Others take photographs in front of them, smiling and with thumbs-up. In the end, no wear-and-tear will tarnish these monuments. They are sturdy, virtually indestructible testaments. They are impressive, breathtaking at turns, and everlastingly present. They will go on to rival D.C., Greece, Rome, Egypt, and even Led Zeppelin.

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
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

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