by Logan B.
Well, 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.