Icky Thump: How the White Stripes will one day save the world
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
There are so few constants in the world these days. With natural disasters, bills, deadly creatures and presidential debates (ugggh) surrounding us at all points, where can solace be found?
It can always be found in the newest White Stripes record.
Back from his vacation with his Detroit buddies in the Raconteurs, Jack White is back with Meg for another frantic 13 tracks on Icky Thump. And, per usual, they’ve raised the bar for themselves again, matching their garage-rock growl with unusual instrumentation and bizarre settings.
If you cherry-pick songs through the album, you’ll find plenty of examples of what they do and how they do it best. Looking for the menace of the MC5 as channelled through a tortured red guitar? Look no further than “Bone Broke.” How about a little mandolin, bagpipes, and sped-up tapes? Why, the next selection, “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” will satisfy that request. Whether it’s the mean churn of “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues,” the straight blues of “Rag And Bone” or the buzzing “Catch Hell Blues,” there’s comfort in knowing that the Stripes are there for you, and are here to blow the earphones off your head once again.
But the Stripes never make the same record twice. So, what’s new and great about this one? For one, Jack White has dipped his finger into the topical for perhaps the first time on record. The title track is railing against the hypocrisy of the anti-immigration crowd that has gathered steam in the time since the last Stripes record. In that regard, has he ever been more direct than this?
“White Americans, what?
Nothing better to do?
Why don’t you kick yourself out
You’re an immigrant too.
Who’s using who?
What should we do?
Well you can’t be a pimp
And a prostitute too.”
The first time I heard that, I was floored. And the shock still hasn’t worn off. In the midst of the wildest Stripes single yet, that damning condemnation of Fox News culture/paranoia stands out, even above the blinking mellotron, the fuzzed-out guitar and the stomp of the drums. Jack White is a lot of amazing things, and add “social conscience” to his resume now.
Now, what’s most the most divisive element about the White Stripes? If you guessed Meg White’s prowess as a drummer, you’re correct. I’ve heard several folks — even intelligent friends of mine — suggest that she’s the worst drummer on the planet. That she’s a hack. That she doesn’t deserve to be in the same room as Jack White.
Well, to them, it’s time to send a message — get over yourselves. Save it, shut it, stop whining, because this argument is dead. Is Meg White the greatest technical drummer to ever grace the earth? No. Does it matter, even a tiny bit? Hell, no. The only thing that could mess this band up at this point would be if she turned into Neal Pert on us and started trying to keep up with Jack’s frantic energy. The most distinct aspect of the Stripes’ music is that, while Jack White is creating a hurricane with his vocals and his guitar/piano/organ/marimba/etc., Meg is holding down the fort with her ominous THUMP THUMP THUMP CRASH! If there were a new drummer trying to go all Carter Beauford on the same song, they’d sink in a black hole of pretentiousness. The medieval smack of “Little Cream Soda” keeps its menace because of Meg. While Jack rips through his delightfully demented speak-singing, the calming, grounding THUMP THUMP THUMP of the drums gives the song space and power.
God save Meg White. While Jack keeps experimenting and soaring to new musical heights, he’s constantly kept in check by the primal thwack of Meg behind the kit. For that, she’s a fantastic drummer, and all the lessons and drum solos in the world can’t teach that.
That dichotomy, the whirlwind vs. the slam, is what keeps the Stripes honest, and it’s what makes Icky Thump yet another essential album in their cannon. Put away the music theory, the love of the 11/8 beat and the angst against a girl who happens to drum in one of the best bands in the world. Just throw the record on in your car and go wild. Because, in the end, that will be what keeps all of us honest.