The White Stripes
Jack White used to have a feeling called the blues. Then he signed with a major label and moved to Nashville.
A recipe for artistic disaster, right?
Just the opposite, in fact. “Icky Thump” is easily the year’s best album so far — and probably the best of the White Stripes’ seven LPs.
“Icky Thump” manages to capture the essence of turn-of-the-century White Stripes while largely avoiding self-repetition; it’s as though Mr. White took the pop-informed experience of his Raconteurs side project and superimposed it on the Stripes’ basic template.
Mr. White’s grunge-bluesy slide guitar eventually emerges on the penultimate “Catch Hell Blues,” but the track really is just an excuse for him to show off a very cool guitar technique called palm-muting.
Preceding it is an eclectic, consistently absorbing batch of songs that find Mr. White exploring world music and quoting from an equally eclectic range of classic-rock sources.
No, you wouldn’t be wrong to hear on “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)” echoes of the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody.”
Also, the start-and-stop, in-no-hurry groove of “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” sounds to me like the Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain.” Or maybe early Steely Dan.
The album has hooks galore. Who cares where Mr. White borrowed them from? Unlike the Stripes’ previous effort — the subdued, transitional, piano-driven “Get Behind Me Satan” — “Icky Thump” was clearly, and by all accounts happily, written for mass consumption.
Mr. White is a two-headed monster — an author of simple, graspable hooks as well as a specialist of shattering noise. He confidently balances these aspects of his craft here, such that the catchiness and din form a tense, electrifying counterpoint.
No sooner does the kickoff title track of “Icky Thump” reel you in with a muscular Zeppelinesque guitar riff than Mr. White is off and running on a raga tangent that recalls that warbly, Clavioline track John Lennon laid on “Baby, You’re a Rich Man.”