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WHITE STRIPES – Icky Thump (XL)

Having been slightly less than impressed with the Stripes last outing ‘Get Behind Me Satan’, and at the same time being reminded just how good they could be with the ‘50,000,000 Fans Can’t Be Wrong’ collection of early singles, I must admit that I was a bit hesitant about getting this album. The cover-mounted 7” given away by NME helped allay my fears somewhat, showing that ‘Rag And Bone’ was as raw and unkempt as the band could get, and so when the album emerged I eagerly snapped up my vinyl copy. The title track is classic Stripes, with a nagging riff and White’s elegantly strained vocals, and enlivened by a garage-punk organ solo. On the other hand ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)’ is a naggingly commercial country-rocker, with melodic verse and chorus, and no over-the-top guitar pyrotechnics. ‘300 m.p.h. Torrential Outpour Blues’ is a loping acoustic blues, quite relaxing in its way, until the guitars erupt a couple of minutes in and White sounds as if he is wringing the very life from his instrument. ‘Conquest’ is where things start to get seriously weird. Over a mariachi horn section the band lay down some heavy metal chords and hollering screams of the song title. ‘Bone Broke’ is a stripped down blues-rocker harking back to the early days (actually written nearly 10 years ago and rediscovered for this album), while ‘Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn’ has the much-hyped bagpipes sounding nowhere near as bad as you had feared, on this mandolin-led paean to his ancestral Scottish homeland. It leads smoothly in ‘St Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)’ which is the least successful – and weirdest – track on the album, but things soon recover with ‘Little Cream Soda’ and the aforementioned ‘Rag And Bone’ upping the blues riffage considerably. ‘I’m Slowly Turning Into You’ is a Hammond-led rocker musing on the ups and downs of marriage and deciding that it isn’t that bad after all, while still finding time to cram in some strangled guitar licks. ‘A Martyr For My Love For You’ carries on the lyrical themes of the preceding track, but in a more laid-back style, before ‘Catch Hell Blues’ brings us back to earth with a jolt – and some cracking slide guitar riffing. ‘Effect And Cause’ rounds off the album with an acoustic ditty in the style of ‘Elephant’s ‘Well, It’s True That We Love One Another’, although by no means as annoying as that eventually became. With this album the White Stripes have returned to the top of their form, and produced an album that can stand side by side with ‘White Blood Cells’ and ‘Elephant’. My only worry is that by setting the bar so high the band are going to have trouble topping this album. We shall just have to wait and see what they come up with next.
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