The White Stripes have come a long way, and with each album, guitarist/lead songwriter Jack White’s style continues to get increasingly bizarre. Some argue that White is merely absorbing the songs of the various cultures he’s interacting with. “Get Behind Me Satan” has some South American beats. With the new album, “Icky Thump,” White exhibits not only some Mexican rhythms and themes, as expressed in the title track,” but also experiments with Irish ballads (“Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn;” “St. Andrew”). “Conquest” is a Mexican-style tale of bravado in a man’s attempt to “conquer” a woman’s heart. The song is flavored with blaring trumpets.
All hope isn’t lost, though. On “Rag and Bone,” the duo returns to the heavy blues-rock sound the band won fans with in the first place with the self-titled “White Stripes” and “De Stijl.”
For some, White’s style is an enigma. Why veer so far from blues-rock? Perhaps he’s getting bored. In interviews, it’s obvious White’s personality is constantly shifting from one project to the other (he is often described as “hyperactive”), and one sound to the other. His recent tryst with The Raconteurs is an example of his constant need for change, and “Icky Thump” is probably his most obvious attempt yet at trying to not be normal.
Normal – being a word that may actually lead to certain doom for The White Stripes’ career if they do ever go all the way back. Perhaps just as finicky with musical influence, is the American music-buying (or downloading) public.
While “Icky Thump” draws heavily from previous ventures and acts as a sort of sponge of White’s various influences, it’s worth noting that the album also has some political overtones. Before, White’s work was mostly introspective. “White Blood Cells,” the duo’s break-out album, was the telling of he and drummer Meg’s falling on love, marriage, living together, and eventual decision to “be friends.” Icky Thump’s title track challenges the judgment of others, and begs those who dare to have an opinion on illegal immigration to look at not only the facts, but this nation’s history of immigration for the answers to this ever-growing problem. The phrase: “… you’re an immigrant too” says it all.
Those who have seen the music video for the song will note that after White walks back across the border past the construction workers, the wall being erected reads “Great Wall of Mexico.” One must remember that, just like the Great Wall of China,” even if it does succeed in keeping illegal immigrants out, it will also serve as a monument for generations to our nation’s foreign policy on people desperate enough for work that they’ll brave the Arizona desert.
“Icky Thump” may be an odd duck, but so is Jack White. Its sounds are reminiscent of old material, but dare to try new things, which is something White should be commended for. And, he sticks his own neck out for foreign policy – and even greater gesture on its own.
This is one album that’s definitely worth adding to the collection – if for nothing other than to have “something different.”