Wednesday, June 8, 2005

MUSIC: The White Stripes get "Satanic"

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Whoo hoo, a 2-CD music day. Picked up both the new Coldplay CD and the latest from the White Stripes today, both albums I've been looking forward to in different ways. Coldplay I'll hit later on, but I've been looking forward to The White Stripes' latest, "Get Behind Me Satan," for months.
The boy-and-girl duo of Jack and Meg White are spunky, gutbucket and ramshackle tunesmiths with surprising depth, making a whole lot of noise for two people without a bass player, combining cranky Delta blues with elements of folk, country and punk rock. They keep on evolving, and the early word on "Get Behind Me Satan" is that it's another left turn from a band full of them.
So, in the spirit, let's do Real-time Blogging! Here's my first impressions of "Get Behind Me Satan," random notes and thoughts right as I listen to it on my headphones while writing other stuff here at work.
Standard disclaimer – first impressions are the next side to useless sometimes when it comes to albums (that rave review I gave Radiohead's "Hail To The Thief" curiously juxtaposes with the fact I hardly ever listen to it now), and White Stripes CDs are particularly tricky to pin down. I wasn't wild about "Elephant," their last CD, instantly, but over time it's become one of my favorite recent albums.
So how does "Get Behind Me Satan" fare? (Plus 10 points for the awesome title.) The first listen verdict:

1. Blue Orchid - I downloaded this single several weeks ago, so I'm already familiar with it. Its kinda wacky, high-pitched Zeppelin-meets-hair metal riff is equal parts grating and addictive.
2. The Nurse -- A marimba?!? Weird vibe, but the song doesn't quite go anywhere. Moody. I know Meg White's not the best drummer in the world technically, but man, she's pounding here.
3. The Doorbell – First instinct, this sounds like a 1970s Michael Jackson Motown tune, with a bouncing piano riff and Jack White scatting at Mach 3. And it's ridiculously catchy in its silly way. Very gospel revival feel to it.
4. Forever For Her (Is Over For Me) – Another piano-based ramble, with prominent xylophone parts (!!) and a nice soaring chorus. It's got a funny kind of wind-up toy music box feel to it.
5. Little Ghost – A down-home country hoedown, almost over-the-top campy, but a enjoyable little track.
6. The Denial Twist – Great title for a song, and a nice bouncy feel, driven by piano again and Jack White swagger. Yet it seems to just kind of fade out before it really builds to a climax, so it feels unfinished.
7. White Moon - A fantastic track, epic and wounded, rippling waves of regret-soaked lyrics washing back and forth over majestic piano breaks. Bonus points for hearing Meg's drum kit collapse at the end of the song.
8. Instinct Blues -- After an album loaded with mostly gentler ballads, this song rips out like broken glass, huge '70s rock star blasts of guitar and screaming rage. A throwback to their early punk-rock work, cathartic. "The flies get it, and the frogs get it..."
9. Passive Manipulation – A joke song, barely 30 seconds, sung by Meg White (who's cute as hell and a powerful drummer, but not much of a singer.) A trifle, but kind of endearing.
10. Take, Take, Take – A guitar-strumming ramble, bluesy and bouncy, all about Rita Hayworth apparently. Great chorus. Is that a phone ringing in the middle of the song?
11. As Ugly As I Seem – Very gentle ballad, the kindest-soundest song on the album. About redemption, perhaps.
12. Red Rain – Big bang boom. Crashing, squealing, yelping, full of feedback and distortion, even louder than "Instinct Blues," the album's climax, all smash and release.
13. I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet) – And then it all wraps up with this piano-driven quasi-inspirational ballad, which has a winking satirical tone you get once you listen closely to the lyrics. Home sweet home.

Final verdict? I like it, but it's definitely a change from the more rock-driven sound of the last couple albums. Anyone expecting punk rock will be sad. It takes a bit of a cue from Jack White's bluegrass-tinged "Cold Mountain" soundtrack work, and a raw, intimate and confessional feel (it was recorded in a handful of days, apparently). That works for and against it -- it doesn't feel overpolished, but a few tunes feel like demo versions. Yet Jack White's palpable love for music springs out of just about every track, and it's a pleasure to see an artist so ready to try out different styles. Clearly the White Stripes don't want to be pigeonholed. While it might be a little bit of experimentation for the hell of it, "Get Behind Me Satan" sounds pretty cool to me so far.

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