Sound — 9
It's obvious that The White Stripes relish dipping into as many genres as humanly possible, and their latest release Icky Thump fully accomplishes that goal. When fame hits, certain bands take full advantage of creative freedom and The White Stripes are one of a few bands that have taken that to the extreme - successfully. Thankfully, Jack White has both the talent and charisma to pull it off. While Icky Thump might tread too much territory for the average radio listener, fans of the White Stripes should be fascinated by the latest songs, which cover everything from a Mariachi-inspired theme to a Scottish traditional. Be prepared for what you're in for when you listen to Icky Thump. It's all over the place genre-wise, but White Stripes fans probably expect that from the eclectic music man that Jack White is. The title track Icky Thump is as manic as it gets, starting out with what sounds like bagpipes but is apparently a keyboard, followed soon after by an infectious rock riff that pops up intermittently. White's vocals are spastic and emotional, making them a perfect fit for the unusual track. At first listen it's a lot to take in, but Icky Thump is a pretty genius track that is hands-down the best track on the CD. Conquest, a cover originally performed by the 50's songstress Patti Page, features Mariachi-styled trumpet playing and could be an easy fit to set up a showdown in vintage cinema. The trumpet and electric guitar play back and forth throughout, almost as if in a very showdown themselves. It transcends just being a rock song and could easily be fit into any soundtrack, particularly in the whole El Mariachi series. Meg White's primal beats are present underneath it all, and her trademark percussion style has actually never sounded better. With a bit of Led Zeppelin and a lot of traditional Scottish folk music, Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn is an earthy track that starts out with a mandolin and the bagpipe-sound once again (while some sources again have stated this is a keyboard, this track feels very, very close to the real thing). With a repeating chorus of Singing li-di-li-d-li-lo, it is the antithesis of a rock song, and the band has to be commended for the gutsy move. Rock purists may tire of this track, but musically it's still a strong piece of work. There are some slow moments on the CD like the fairly straightforward ballad You Don't Know What Love Is, but the vast majority of the tracks have more than a few interesting moments along the way. Meg White also gets a chance to step into the spotlight once again with St. Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air), an emotional, spoken-word prayer that calls upon a defender in the fight against evil. It is short in length, but it is an engaging track nonetheless.
Lyrics — 10
The lyrics on Icky Thump are just as unique as the music backing it up. The down-home blues track Rag & Bone actually is spoken just as much as it's sung, and Jack White continues to make down-home, quips as if a wayfaring traveler, while Meg sounds off in approval. Meg asks, I saw some stuff in here - are you going to give it to us? Jack returns, Oh, Meg, don't be rude. They might need it. If you don't want it, we'll take it. If you don't want to give it to us, we'll keep walking by. You almost feel like you're scavenging along with Jack and Meg, and it makes for a fun ride. Icky Thump doesn't fail to deliver clever, offbeat lyrics, either. Jack sings, Red-head seorita; Lookin' dead; Came to said, 'I need a bed' en espaol. It has its own story, even if it's a fairly vague and unusual one. And when you tack on Jack's delivery to the lyrics, it makes it all a bit more intriguing. In the end, it's obvious that Jack isn't rehashing the same old rhyme schemes that have been used in the past, and that's the most refreshing aspect of the lyrics.
Overall Impression — 9
The White Stripes' latest release is one that a lot of people will need at least a few listens to full absorb. You're taken in a lot of different directions, and some might not like every stop made along the way. From spoken word to 60's-inspired guitar rock, Icky Thump does seem to cover it all. But for every song you're unsure about, there is like to be 2 or 3 that you'll sit back and realize that The White Stripes are at the top of their game. While Jack and Meg play pretty much any style they attempt competently, they will always be naturals when it comes to the gritty blues sound heard on earlier releases. Catch Hell Blues, a fairly standard blues track, stands out just as much as the spastic masterpieces heard on Icky Thump, and Jack White's guitar work is a huge reason why the band is able to transform a fairly straightforward blues song into an inspired opus.