Tuesday, June 19, 2007

White Stripes, Icky Thump (Warner Bros.)

5-star effort reinvents classic rock with an eye on the masses
Over five albums, Detroit duo the White Stripes have maintained a doggedly traditional stance, mining dusty Americana influences to inspire their cathartic garage-rock blues. With each successive release both more experimental and popular than the one previous, Jack and Meg White have been able to explore a myriad of styles while building an enviable position in the rapidly imploding music industry. By staying true to their original minimalist model, the Stripes have not-so-quietly become one of the (if not the) biggest bands in the world.

With their sixth full-length album, the White Stripes are going for the gold, crafting an explosive collection of classic rock that plays like it's still 1975 and they're in heavy rotation between Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers. The title cut opens the show like AC/DC reimagining Led Zeppelin II as done by Iron Butterfly, with Jack spitting some of his most caustic and socially conscious lyrics yet.

"Conquest" retools the Patti Page standard into a horn-blasted mariachi jam that recalls the energy of "Fell in Love with a Girl" and results in one of the album's giddiest moments. "Little Cream Soda" rocks with a similar proto-metal crunch as "Thump," with Jack's stream of consciousness ranting battling his massive distortion-saturated guitar riffs for space in the maelstrom. Meg's fans are acknowledged with her vocalizing on the spoken-word free-for-all "St. Andrew (This Battle Is in the Air)" and some campy call-and-response bantering with Jack on the raucous "Rag & Bone."

Jack's time in the more straightforward Raconteurs shows up on "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)," which is among the most pedestrian tracks he's ever penned for the Stripes. But there seems to be a method to his madness, with songs like these feeling ready-made for more mainstream outlets than the Stripes have yet to tread, like modern country radio.

With the White Stripes' career still on a stratospheric trajectory, the cleaner production and potentially more wide-reaching songwriting of Icky Thump could be a watershed moment for the band, taking them from critical and hipster darlings to the latest addition to the rock icon canon—if it hasn't already happened.