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Get thee behind me
on 25 February 2006
Sooner or later, it had to happen. The White Stripes have made an album that is Not Great.
Granted, it's not terrible either. But "Get Behind Me Satan" is perhaps the weakest album the Stripes have yet put out, after four albums of solid, bluesy rock'n'roll. And what is wrong with it, exactly? It feels unfinished, like a wonderful album that needs another six months to reach its potential.
It opens with a dark, sludgy riff that cycles around itself several times, before Jack White's high voice slips in: "You got a reaction/You got a reaction didn't, you?/You took a white orchid/You took a white orchid -- turned it blue..." Then he launches off into a string of embittered snaps, telling an unnamed lover that her lips "taste sour."
It's followed by a grim string of tropical-tinged rock, bluesy rhythms, murky ballads and some slightly creepy country-flavoured songs. There's even a song that is played only on drums and piano, with Jack singing wistfully about dying friends, pictures, memories and so on.
With that tone in mind, the White Stripes manage a few more sizzling rockers, but seem to be leaning more on the slower songs toward the end. Though they rouse up a blistering blast of rock'n'roll in "Red Rain," the melancholy end to all this is the mournful "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)," with its meandering piano and sorrowful vocals.
Whether you like them or not, it has to be admitted that the White Stripes have become a major force in modern rock'n'roll, to the point where other bands rip them off. Their rough, raw, bluesy sound has gotten them fans of all types, and unlike many rock groups, they actually have some decent rock (REAL rock, not pop!) to back them up.
But the fact is, these songs don't really feel finished. I love that dark riff Jack plays in "Blue Orchid," but he plays it constantly, without a climax or any real payoff -- it continues and ends as it began, with one simple riff. The same is true of the lyrics, which range from simplistic to wonderfully odd ("White moon, white moon/Breaks open the tomb/Of a deserted cartoon that I wrote...")
As a result, several songs feel almost like good demos -- good listening, but not quite up to the caliber of a finished, fully-realized song. Fortunately several others -- "Little Ghost" and the quirky "Nurse," for instance -- can combine quirky songs with some gritty musicianship.
Jack sounds pretty unhappy here, without much fire in his singing, but it's replaced with an introspective intensity; Meg gets to lend her sweet, off-kilter voice to a brief interlude, urging women to listen to their mums. And they both are in good form musically, whether it's a barn-dance tune or a a mournful ballad. There's less drumming from Meg and more piano, although she does get to rock out in songs like "Denial Twist."
While not-good-enough-to-be-excellent White Stripes is still enjoyable rock, the Stripes weren't quite on top form in "Get Behind Me Satan." A pleasant, if bittersweet listen.