The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan

by Logan B.

G84517d74cmWell, it’s here. More than two years –a period of time in which Jack White appeared in and wrote music for the movie Cold Mountain and produced and collaborated on Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose, not to mention having a bar fight with Jason Stollsteimer of the Von Bondies and an automobile accident in which his playing hand was injured (!) –after the critically-acclaimed Elephant, the White Stripes’ fifth full length album, Get Behind Me Satan, is here.                   

It’s not surprising that such an eventful time would reveal itself in
the new musical ground covered in Satan. There’s bluegrass (“Little
Ghost”), piano-based soul (“My Doorbell”), metallic dance rock (“Blue
Orchid”) and even marimbas (“The Nurse”). What is more surprising is
how cohesively all these influences blend into what is an undeniably
appropriate progression from their previous work.

True, Satan‘s counterpoints to Elephant’s high points, while fantastic, don’t quite reach the
same levels: “Blue Orchid” is great as a radio-friendly offering, but
not as jaw-dropping as “Seven Nation Army”; “Instinct Blues” doesn’t
quite achieve the same thundering bone crunch as “Ball and Biscuit”; and the
now obligatory Meg-on-vocals piece, “Passive Manipulation” isn’t as
charming as “In the Cold Cold Night”, and it reveals Meg’s vocal
limitations more blatantly. But ending the review with these
observations would be not only unfair (Elephant being in the
conversation for the greatest rock album of the new millennium,
period), but would miss the point.

Jack and Meg haven’t merely sought to create another Elephant,
potentially painting themselves into a creative corner by feeling
obligated to rehash the same formula that won over both fans and
critics; they’ve expanded their scope and have pushed forward. Piano
features more prominently than guitar on the album, Jack’s guitar is
starting to sound suspiciously processed at times, and Meg is
developing into much more than a metronome that happens to be easy on
the eyes. The subject matter of the lyrics has become heavier, as
“Take, Take, Take” talks about the greed of over-demanding fans and the
incestuous overtures in “Passive Manipulation” are the most overt of
the band’s career.

The entire mood has become considerably darker, as well. Gone are the
simple, innocent love songs from past albums. Now, as the Village Voice
puts it
, “On the first four tracks of Get Behind Me Satan an emissary
from the unfair sex discolors Jack’s flowers, salts his wounds, leaves
his doorbell unrung, and allows ‘everybody’s reactions’ to distract her
from his undying love.” “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)”, the
closing track –so lighthearted on past albums –is now melancholy.

Lest all this sound like criticism, it’s not. Brilliantly, the White
Stripes have managed to put it all together in a way that just…
works. Though dark, the album is delivered with a kind of devilish (pun
intended) smirk, raising doubts as to whether “get behind me Satan” is
a meant as a dismissal of or an invitation. The “poor me” lyrics sound as
though they could easily be a ruse designed to draw in sympathetic,
unsuspecting young things before he pounces. In other words, the
album’s still fun. A lot of fun. In fact, releasing their fourth exceptionally
strong album in a row (not to mention a pretty decent debut) starts to
make a case for the White Stripes as the most important band around. No
one else since 2000 has been so prolific and consistently impressive as
Jack and Meg.


25 thoughts on “The White Stripes: Get Behind Me Satan

  1. “There’s bluegrass (“Little Ghost”), piano-based soul (“My Doorbell”), metallic dance rock (“Blue Orchid”) and even marimbas (“The Nurse”).”

    Just this information alone makes me interested…

  2. “No one else since 2000 has been so prolific and consistently impressive as Jack and Meg.”

    I’ve never been that impressed. I like a song here or two, but have never been able to listen to an entire album at a time. I keep meaning to give them another try but there’s too much other music to obsess over.

  3. Susan,

    Though I may not necessarily agree with Logan, I’d be curious to hear what your picks would be for post 2000 best music.

  4. Off the top of my head:

    Converge (hardcore/metal)
    Isis (atmospheric metal is the best description I can think of)
    Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss + Union Station, Gillian Welch (bluegrass)
    Opeth (death metal, but so much more)
    Calexico (folky/indie/Americana)

    Some of those bands were around before 2000, but I’m thinking of albums that all came out after 2000.

  5. Just to be clear, I tried to be careful and say most important band, not best band. I happen to be a huge White Stripes fan, but I understand if they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. I do think a case can be made for being the most important band, though. They’ve got a degree of mainstream popularity and exposure — they’ve won Grammies and been on MTV — yet maintain consistently great reviews from critics (not that this is the be all and end all, but lists the White Stripes higher than any other rock band from the 2000’s).

    I’d say the White Stripes are much more influential on the overall rock scene than the bands Susan mentioned, although maybe I should get more into those bands. As for the Decembrists or the Flaming Lips, puh-leeze, Steve. The Lips have only released one album since 2000, and the Decembrists do some nice stuff, but they aren’t world-changers. If you’re not going to try and convince me that Radiohead is still in its prime or throw the Strokes at me or something on that level, you’re not going to be able to convince me using anything in the mainstream indie (hmm, that sounds a little contradictory, doesn’t it?) field.

    I’m still waiting for another Nevermind to come and knock the music world on its ear. The White Stripes are certainly nowhere near the level of Nirvana at this point. But I still think a better case can be made for the Stripes as most important band than any other. But go ahead, present your cases to the contrary if you’ve got ’em.

  6. man logan, you are in a grumpy mood! I gave you two very, very good bands. Have you listened to Picaresque?

    But I see that you are looking for overall rock, not indie. OK, then, I can give you the White Stripes, and I think Radiohead is still worth listing (Hail to the Thief is a work of genius). Who else?

    How about:
    -The Shins
    -Arcade Fire
    -New Pornographers

    But yes, no Nevermind out of the bunch. The Stripes are as important as any of them. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are as enjoyable to listen to all the time.

  7. Sorry to be grumpy — you’re right, I have been.

    Yeah, I’ve got Picaresque. I don’t know, the Decemberists have just never really done it for me. And I think they’re too obscure (at least as far as the mainstream goes) to really change the world music-wise. At least for now.

    As for the others, even granting for the sake of argument that all of the albums from all the bands being considered are equally good, none of them has more than two albums to the Stripes’ now four. The Arcade Fire and Blur only have one each. Blur is practically in the middle of self destruction and I’d give the nod to Franz Ferdninand or maybe Bloc Party over TAF if we’re considering new bands with only one album (which I, personally, don’t think is enough to go on). And I think Wilco, the Shins, and the New Pornographers are all second tier, even though I love them all (Wilco is one of my very, very favorites).

    I agree that Radiohead may be in the running. Also the Strokes. Personally, though, I don’t think either is as solidly in their prime as the White Stripes.

  8. And maybe tonight does work. I’ll talk to Amy when she gets home. I’ve gotten a LOT of stuff in the last few months, and I hope we didn’t get all the same stuff like last time. 😦

  9. How about Sufjan Stevens? Not important enough, but very life-changing music.

    And I think the Shins will make it big, very soon. Garden State went a long way towards that.

  10. I don’t think we’ve gotten the same stuff. I’ve added a LOT (read: GBs) of jazz since last time.

  11. Oh, you’re talking most influential. I thought you meant most talented.

    I can see lots of influences that the White Stripes have in their music, but I can’t think of any bands they’ve influenced themselves. Who would you say?

    Most of the indie stuff today is very 80’s influenced. I think the biggest influence there is Joy Division, and for the catchy bands with girl singers, Berlin/Terri Nunn. And the other big influence in today’s indie bands is Neil Young.

    If you look at popular music, the R&B stuff you hear on the radio, early Michael Jackson seems like the biggest influence there.

    I really thought stoner rock was going to go mainstream and knock the world on it’s butt. But it didn’t. Queens of the Stone Age took off but they’re very poppy. I think if the other band to spring from Kyuss, Unida, hadn’t had their record deal fall through, they could’ve been huge. They’ve since broken up.

    Really the biggest movement to happen in popular music is hip hop, and I’m guessing that’s all been influenced by certain producers more than artists. Timbaland, etc.

  12. The closest thing there’s been to a Nevermind in the last few years, in my opinion, is The Strokes’ Is This It. Not talking about quality, necessarily, just influence and popularizing a genre. Since that album, garage-ish punk and post-punk have been mined by literally dozens of new bands. From The Hives to new MTV-stuff like My Chemical Romance and The Killers, I think Is This It kind of opened the door.

    I think the White Stripes peaked with De Stijl and White Blood Cells, but I haven’t spent much time with the new one.

  13. The White Stripes have some very good stuff. But after a while it becomes somewhat boring. A lot of their stuff starts to sound the same after a while.

    I tend to think The New Pornographers are overrated as well. BTW Speaking of Niko Case for the longest time I thought Neko Case was the same person. Now that’s a fantastic singer. (Check out Furnance Room Lullaby, Knock Loud, or Twist the Knife)

    I’m not sure I buy The Strokes as kind of neo-Grunge. I kind of like some of their stuff though. Better than most stuff out right now.

    Wilco is awesome though. Fantastic.

    One pop group I kind of dig that is new that I might get ridiculed for is the 22-20’s.

  14. Oh, best post 2000 bands are definitely Radiohead (not in their prime? Their only problem is not being on iTMS); Audioslave (although their latest I’m not impressed with); Velvet Revolver (yeah, finally real stadium rock again); Interpol; Gorillaz (wow they are diverse and far better than most give them credit for);

    Others that I’ll give a good rating to are My Morning Jacket (Golden is one of my most played songs at the moment); Imperial Teen as a guilty pleasure; A Perfect Circle (underrated for what they are putting out – at least as good as Tool was); and I don’t care what anyone thinks nor all the hype – I like Coldplay.

  15. I love Coldplay and My Morning Jacket. Gorillaz are interesting. My son was really into them a few years ago, I took him to see them. You know what their live shows are like, right?

    (The “nu garage” was meant to be disparaging. As in “nu metal.”)

  16. I haven’t gotten around to listening to all the White Stripes albums (nor do I have them) — but the intention is there. When I first heard “Ball and Biscuit” I was utterly converted to the idea that Jack White has got something special going on. It was so raw and bluesy and primal — it really hit the spot.

    Thanks for the review.

    Would it be possible to post some of the better White Stripes songs in the radioblog? Particularly from the new album?

  17. I just put some White Stripes on the radioblog, one oldie that I like, and the new single.

    Clark: You’ll notice I didn’t call The Strokes grunge at all. I wasn’t talking about the style of music, but the effect on their first album.

  18. Believe it or not, everyone, I didn’t think I was making such a controversial statement.

    For one, “In fact, releasing their fourth exceptionally strong album in a row (not to mention a pretty decent debut) starts to make a case for the White Stripes as the most important band around.” isn’t exactly “Anyone who doesn’t think the Stripes are the ‘only band that matters’ is a fool.” It’s okay if you disagree with me.

    What surprises me is that something like this is news to everyone. Maybe I read from different music sources than eneryone else, but I can hardly read anything without seeing praise for the White Stripes:

    All Music Guide says “[White Blood Cells] was a critical smash and the White Stripes soon found themselves, along with the Strokes and the Hives, at the forefront of the new wave of rock & roll bands poised to take over the world.”

    Acclaimed Music ranks them higher than any other rock band in the 2000’s.

    Rolling Stone says “If you happen to be a rock band, and you don’t happen to be either of the White Stripes, it so sucks to be you right now.”

    Their last two albums have been in the top five in the Voice’s Pazz and Jop poll. (Elephant, White Blood Cells)

    And they’ve won Grammies, adding some mainstream recognition to their critical acclaim.

    Like I say, it’s fine to disagree with me on this. I wanted to point out that I didn’t just make this stuff up.

  19. FWIW, Logan, I didn’t think you were being too controversial either. The White Stripes have the uncanny ability to ride the indie / mainstream line in such a way that gives them huge credibility on both sides. It’ll be interesting to see where they go from here.

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