A Review of the White Stripes’ new album Icky Thump

Musicodelerious ravings about airships and Meg White

The White Stripes’ Icky Thump is first and foremost a Jack White album. Ex-wife/sister Meg White features far less than on previous releases (apparently due to “the lumbago”) and performs on less than half of the tracks. This gives Jack White’s eccentric genius (some would claim blatant insanity) full reign, producing a ‘difficult’ album that may alienate some White Stripes fans. With repeated listening however the album grows on one, and will have many initially sceptical listeners dancing around the room like intoxicated Gibraltan macaques in short order.

The opening track is the by now familiar Icky Thump. The album version however has several differences to the promotional single – most notably the much celebrated stylophone has been replaced with digitally manipulated cow moos. Jack White has explained that this is because cows are black and white on the outside, and red on the inside – unlike a stylophone. There are several lyrical changes as well – ‘learnt to clean up after myself’ has become ‘learnt to clean up after an elf’, which is believed to refer to Jack’s well known hatred of the Lord of the Rings movies.

The second track is titled Clever Hans and concerns a ‘mathematical horse’ of the same name. Jack White continues his habit of calling upon obscure and obsolete instruments by having the baseline performed on a medieval woodwind instrument called a ‘serpent’. This gives the otherwise bright and cheery song an ominous edge quite in contrast to its subject matter. Bridge-Partner/Tennis-Coach Meg White provides ‘clip-clop’ noises on coconuts.

Track number three Overlord of the Wild Blue Sky is a thrilling tale of airship combat featuring a soaring guitar solo. According to the liner notes this was played on a solid aluminium guitar for ‘that authentic airship sound’. The song has been optioned by Paramount Pictures and a movie trilogy featuring its central character (Group Captain Icarus Adler) is expected to commence filming in 2008.

Track number four is a quickly forgettable series of grunts entitled Spice. Rumours that these are in fact samples taken from the digital audio tapes stolen from Sting during the making of the movie Dune in 1984 were quashed by White, who explained that there were in fact simply grunts.

The fifth track Fan Oven Dimensional Portal features the return of confidant/best-buddy Meg White on the drums. It is a much more traditional White Stripes song in the mould of 2001’s Hotel Yorba – in fact some fans claim the main melody is simply Hotel Yorba played backwards and shifted up a tone. Jack has responded angrily to such accusations, but has refused to flat out deny this. Playing the tune backwards does reveal an almost sub-audible repeated chant of ‘ghostly toad’ – what this may mean is anyone’s guess.

Track number six is titled House and has no lyrics apart from a counted intro by Jack. It is a pounding guitar and drum piece with some similarities to Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song, Jack has indicated in the liner notes that this is intentional. In the same notes he suggests that it may be used as the theme music for the fourth season of television’s House MD, however this is widely regarded as a joke.

Sweetness-personified/Queen-of-this-world Meg White performs lyrical duties on track number seven, titled Aka’i. This appears to be something to do with a traditional Japanese folk-tale (or possibly manga comic) but it’s hard to tell as her tender vocal is quickly drowned out by demonic drum and trumpet solos and repeated screams of ‘bastard!’. Many would no doubt prefer to hear her sing, but such is the eccentric genius of Jack White.

Track number eight is the touching My Collar, sung from the viewpoint of an S&M enthusiast whose dominatrix has quit and taken over a fast food franchise. This song includes some of the wittiest lyrics on the album – comparing bondage equipment to various kitchen implements – although it may put you off hamburgers for quite some time.

The final track is listed as Bush, but is in fact quite clearly the Black Eyed Peas’ My Humps speeded up by 50%. Whether this is some kind of obscure political statement, or due to an unnoticed accident with the mixing deck is hard to determine.

Many excited rumours have been circulating concerning a hidden track – titled The Gardner – somewhere on the album featuring vocals by Jim Morrison. This can be located by playing 33 seconds into track number 3, then hitting the back index button 87 times. Unfortunately it turns out not to be a song, but a recording of Jack White yelling abuse at his gardner – a man sharing the name of the late Doors frontman – for a straight 18 minutes. Why Jack saw fit to include this on the album is hard to say, but it may have something to do with his upcoming court case against Hyperion Gardening Services of Nashville Tennesee.

Overall Icky Thump is well worth a listen and a good investment for that jar of pocket shrapnel you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Even if you don’t enjoy Jack White’s musical stylings it should (with sufficient amplification) be of use for repelling birds, rats and other vermin, which is well worth the cost in itself.

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I just spent a week struck down with an extremely nasty bowel condition that was almost certainly salmonella (I was meant to phone up for the test results yesterday but forgot). This meant a week off work, but I couldn’t actually do anything constructive with it because of constant hydrogen sulphide eructations (that’s eructations you illiterate sniggerers down the back, look it up!), vomiting reaching level 8 (or ‘Exorcist’) on the Stamford Emesis scale, and the need to rush to the bathroom every fifteen minutes day and night. I’m thankfully much recovered now and decided to celebrate by throwing together an entry in Triple J’s pre-review Icky Thump competition, which I have included above (a chance to write authorative sounding gibberish and win a stylophone? Wild horses couldn’t stop me! 🙂

It should be noted that everything in said review is utter nonsense and – despite appearances – I actually quite like the White Stripes. And let’s face it, Jack White should record a thrilling tale of airship combat sometime. After his acting turns in various movies (most notably Cold Mountain) he could probably play Icarus Adler in the movie adaption too! 🙂

Back to the office tomorrow to catch up on all the work I’ve missed. Sigh.

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