Sunday, August 21, 2011

White Stripes get me behind them

Everyone I know likes The White Stripes, but it took me a long, long time to jump on that bandwagon.

The songs I'd heard, from movies (Napoleon Dynamite) to online radio stations, sounded great. But I was hesitant to delve into the catalog ... I've been burned before with songs that sounded great, then finding out that whole albums by those artists just didn't cut it. Sure, "Seven Nation Army" was awesome ... but could that kind of sound be sustained across whole albums? I just wasn't sure.

A friend of mine loaned me "Get Behind Me Satan" and said it was his choice for best album of the 2000s. High praise ... but I was skeptical.
I popped "Get Behind Me Satan" in and enjoyed it a lot. The rhythmic power, the variety in instrumentation, the relentless drums. Jack White's voice. It was fantastic, but ... it didn't immediately grab me. So I started playing it more as background music. Good stuff, energetic, great beats. Meg White may not be the flashiest or most skilled drummer, but she lays down a nice groove and a solid bed to which Jack can add his stuff (as Jack himself has said, he didn't need a Neil Peart for this stuff).

My ear started to pick up more and more, and I found my attention was always grabbed by "Take, Take, Take." Such great storytelling, and what a wonderful icon to use as the focus (Rita Hayworth). Jack's tale of a never-satisfied fan who constantly wants more appealed to my sense of humor and cynical outlook.

Soon, other favorites developed. "My Doorbell," "Forever for Her (is Over for Me)," "Little Ghost," "I'm Lonely (but I Ain't That Lonely Yet)" ... Heck, the whole disc.

Seriously, the album is that solid. It's like listening to a gold mine of late 1960s / early 1970s rock (like the Troggs and "Wild Thing," mixed with occasional Jimmy Page guitar antics, the eccentric topics of the 1960s The Who and the rowdiness of the Rolling Stones at their prime). Jack's guitar riffing is reduced in comparison to the last album, "Elephant," but that works for this material.

And the instrumentation adds a lot of atmosphere, too. Rather than sticking with the straight-out electric guitar and drum thrashes, Jack explores different sounds. Piano, mandolin, acoustic guitar and even the marimba get thrown together to create a varied palette of musical backdrops, giving each song its own identity and chance to shine. Check "The Nurse," and you'll see what I mean.

This album often showcases stripped down rock and roll, with humor and pithiness that you can't help but love. "The Nurse" and "Little Ghost" have such odd points of view, with very original lyrics. Those caught my attention right away.

The vocals range from playful to Robert Plant-esque wails. In fact, the Robert Plant-Led Zeppelin link is as good a comparison for SOUND as I can give for this album ... It's got the mood, the power, the insistence and the charm to insinuate itself into your head, just like the best Zep albums do/did. And White has always paid homage to the blues (as did Zep, though a few of my friends consider Zep to just be thieves of the genre). There's great rhythm, great hooks and a dynamic progressions, with just enough guitar to kick some ass. If Jimmy Page, John Bonham, John Paul Jones and Robert Plant had played with their lyrics (which they did their fair share of, anyway, with Tolkien materials and all), added more percussion (not just drums) and went for sparser arrangements, I think this is the sound they could have gotten.

The atmosphere of the album is worth noting, too. Recorded at Jack's own Third Man Studios (giving it the rich sound that White wanted), the album benefits from the lessons learned during the recording of The White Stripes' previous album "Elephant." "Elephant" used antiquated recording equipment from the 1960s to get the timber and texture of the music from that period. Having learned the ins and outs of getting that thickness and atmosphere, Jack was able to get a clean modern sound that had the depth and fullness of the 1960s sounds for a killer collection of songs. Just listen to the brightness of the piano, the power of the drums, the detailed textures of the shakers and the clarity of Jack's vocal on "My Doorbell," and you'll see they'd managed a perfect blend of old and new.

This album had me moving further into their catalog, and I've now collected (and continue to enjoy) their entire released catalog. I can grab it for great driving music, or settle down with it at night with headphones and really get into the vibe.

But is it the best album of the 2000s? I won't go that far. But it's a consistent treat with more great songs than clunkers. Everything that Jack and Meg White had learned on their previous four albums came together for this album. It's a great disc of theirs to start with, no matter your musical tastes. It may not have a track that is as viral as "Seven Nation Army" was, but "Get Behind Me Satan" has the variety in sound and a solid sense of (dark) humor that makes it my favorite of The White Stripes' releases.


  1. I love your reviews. As I continue to enjoy more of The White Stripes, I need to add this CD to my collection. Well done sir.

  2. Thanks, Mick!

    Yeah, I own all the albums by The White Stripes at this point ... and this one continues to be my favorite. All the discs have their good and bad qualities, but the range of styles in the material on "Get Behind Me Satan" keeps the album fresh for me.


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