All "Icky Thump" initially brought to mind was Graham Chapman telling Terry Jones how to say, "Eee, ecky thump!" into a mike.
But it's also the title of the White Stripes' sixth album, and after the mediocre dry spell of "Get Behind Me Satan," it's nice to hear that the Stripes seem to have regained their creative juices. This time they pack the album with dark seventies-style rock'n'roll and some traditional folk flourishes.
It kicks off with the dark, plodding guitar that blazes up to life every few seconds, and a sinuous synth ripple that slithers through the melody. "Icky thump/Who'da thunk?/Sittin drunk on a wagon to Mexico?" Jack yowls, describing the less pleasant corners of Mexico, and taking a moment to jab at Americans ("Why don't you kick yourself out/You're an immigrant too!").
It softens up a lot for the catchy, bluesier rocker "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)," and the mellow gritty "300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues." Then the album goes through two phases: the first is one of British and Scottish folkiness, and a trumpety rocker that sounds like a B-side from Beirut. Then the last leg of the album slips back to blazing rock'n'roll, full of dark energy and retro organ.
I never quite figured out what was going on in the halfhearted "Get Behind Me Satan," except that every band has their dud. And fortunately "Icky Thump" is everything that album wasn't -- spirited, creative, enthusiastic, and full of those little moments and brilliant instrumentation that bring it alive. Nice to see they haven't run out of juice yet.
Yeah, we have Jack blazing away like a forest fire on his guitars, whether it's softer blues riffs, ringing blasts or hard-rocking swirls. And Meg smashes the drums like no other. But their music is festooned with a colourful array of extra instrumentation -- sweeps of eerie, vintage psychedelic synth, sprightly gypsyish trumpets, and even bagpipes for the mesmerizing "St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)."
Jack seems to have regained his verve as well: he sounds assured and a little sad, and his quirky voice has a new depth and power. But he hasn't lost his melancholy edge, singing of Mexican robberies, stream of consciousness love songs, the rag and bone man, and a man who loves a woman so deeply, he lets her go so he won't make her unhappy.
And Meg gets to display her clear voice a few times -- she gets to talk with Jack in "Rag & Bone," and the eerie Scottishy ballad "St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)" has her murmuring a prayerlike song over a bagpipe/drum melody. ("This battle is in the air/I'm looking upwards/where are the angels?/I'm not in my home!").
"Icky Thump" is both a wonderful return to form, and a foray into new territory for the White Stripes. A glorious experience, and it only gets better with repeated listens. A triumph.