Rhythm & Views

The White Stripes

The thumbnail: Jack White, rock's most beguiling dandy, rediscovers his love for the six-string, throws in mariachi and a bagpipe, and lets loose; Meg White drums loudly and ably.

The White Stripes don't need to prove their chops or defend their decisions anymore, and Icky Thump is the sound of a seasoned band on a tear. Whereas Jack and Meg once seemed pedantic in crafting their art--which they continue with the outfits and color patterns--they now seem to revel in upping the decibels.

Pounded out in an enviable three weeks, Icky Thump mostly savages from the opening buzzsaw riffs of "Icky Thump" to the penultimate blues squealer "Catch Hell Blues." Although there are subtle variations of genre on the album--ballad, rock, mariachi, Irish jig, blues and metal--its universal brand is loud.

Misdirection abounds on an album where "Little Cream Soda" is a menacing number with distorted and crunchy guitar yowls, while "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues" is a plaintive tune that shocks with abrasive moments of guitar squalor.

Yet, superfluous distractions aside, Icky Thump is an impressive progression that seems like a noisy return to form. From the bumping, throbbing Patti Page cover "Conquest" (with a stunning trumpet/guitar duel) to the clever closing blues shuffle of "Effect and Cause," to the splashy guitar-organ morphs of "I'm Slowly Turning Into You," to the bluesy camp of "Rag and Bone," music's most potent duo leave the competition in their raucous wake.

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