The White Stripes’ Icky Thump: What the Heck?
By
Nate Rustemeyer
7/9/2007 10:10:19 AM

“Icky thump/Who’d a thunk?/Sittin’ on a wagon to Mexico”! reflects the main reason that Icky Thump [Warner Bros.] did not receive five stars in popular reviews. Rolling Stone gave them only three and a half. The music is tight and exciting, but half of Jack’s lyrics and singing is pure cheese. Thank God it doesn’t take more than a couple songs to get things moving.

The title track kicks it off with rockin’ guitar riffs, Meg White’s thrashing drums, and annoying lyrics. “White Americans, what?/Nothing better to do?/Why don’t you kick yourself out/you’re an immigrant too?” Very true, but pure pate. Jack shows off teeny-bop lyrics with “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What Your Told)”, and it comes off like a sermon (in which the preacher knows he’s clever). As a whole it’s really not that bad; it’s in the same vein as the Bee Gee’s “To Love Somebody.” Lyrically, however, it does not compare.

Don’t get me wrong; Jack is the man, and on the third track, “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues”, the III starts to warm up. III is Jack when he’s the pure artist. It’s like calling Andre from Outkast ‘3000.’ Jack begins “calling out to ghosts…getting hard on himself” (thank God) and writing poetry. Corky Robbin’s “Conquest” is the only cover on Icky, which the Stripes recruited a trumpeter for, and then made a fine adventure out of. Jack’s lyrics on “Bone Broke” are a special brand of John Lennon-like soy cheese that is digestable, although bland to the taste. It’s a clean, three-minute punk experience, no more or less. With a “Li de le de le oh oh” and bagpipes, “Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn” is a fine ode to the flag and rollin’ hills of Scotland (Jack and Meg’s ancestry). This track transforms perfectly into “St. Andrew (This Battle Is in the Air)” which is graced with Meg’s seldom heard vocals. She cries, “St. Andrew don’t forsake me…The children are crying” and so on, not matching the booklet’s order of the lyrics for this song at all. Though “St. Andrew” is the shortest song on the CD (just under two minutes), this type of sporadic feminine energy is clearly a vital source of the Stripes’ power. “Little Cream Soda is loud and chuck full of sounds. It’s fun to hear Jack and Meg talk to each other about junk collecting on the goofy “Rag and Bone.” “I’m Slowly Turning Into You” is a neat idea, but the III starts to become Clever Jack again. “A Martyr for My Love for You” is an okay teenage lovesick rock song. “Catch Hell Blues” works well because it has plenty of Tom Morello-style guitar experiments, sprinkled with a few terse lyrics. “Effect and Cause” overkills the end with four wordy verses and a repeating bridge. It leaves one hoping for a less convoluted hidden track, but there isn’t one.

Saying less is more, Jack. As a writer he knows this, but things are a bit staged on this CD, much like the mysterious woman on the front and back of the CD booklet who just happens to be in the background holding a white handkerchief between the Stripes in both shots. Were there any spontaneous culminations on Icky Thump? Yes, but probably only in Jack’s awesome guitar playing. Don’t worry about it if you don’t care much about lyrics. “Ecky thump” actually means something like, “what the heck,” and if that’s how the Stripes describe this work, I won’t disagree.

 

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