The White Stripes, Get Behind Me Satan (V2)

Posted June 28th, 2005 by admin

The White Stripes
Get Behind Me Satan
By: Eric Greenwood

I just saw The White Stripes for the first time at Music Midtown in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Admittedly, it wasn't the best environment to see a band. Everyone knows that festivals are awful concert experiences, so my expectations were low. And the sea of douche bags trying to mosh and crowd surf to The White Stripes was an embarrassing situation to be in for sure, but it was the only date the band had booked in 2005 (at the time). So, I sucked it up and stood in the rain while Jack and Meg tore through their inimitable schtick, oblivious to the boneheaded minions cheering them on.

Jack hops from instrument to instrument like a man possessed when he performs, constantly providing Meg with specific visual cues as to how to follow his unpredictable lead. He improvises like a true showman, his voice sputtering and caterwauling from note to note as Meg holds down her bare bones beats with nary a fill in sight. Meg must hate drum rolls because I've never heard her do anything even remotely close to one. Actually, scratch that- Jack must hate them because watching this duo perform live it's obvious who calls the shots.

The band culled its setlist primarily from its fifth and newest album, Get Behind Me Satan. I'd only heard the new record once or twice before the show, and while I knew I was into the single "Blue Orchid", the rest of the album hadn't quite won me over yet. Eschewing the blistering blues-soaked guitar that dominated Elephant, Jack White now seems to favor the piano, which he plays with just as much fanaticism. The cacophonous stomp has tapered slightly. It's not a mellowing out so much as a deliberate change of pace. Let's just say White sounds more like Jerry Lee Lewis than Jimmy Page on this record.

The aforementioned first single, "Blue Orchid", is like nothing else on Get Behind Me Satan. White's guitar sounds shellacked and processed as his voice reaches up to an aggressive falsetto. I realize "aggressive falsetto" is not something you hear every day since falsettos are recessive by nature (unless you count Robert Plant), but he pulls it off with the help of some clever backing tracks. It's a foot-stomper of a song, and Meg rocks it out in her Bam Bam Flintstone style, bashing her ride cymbal with reckless abandon.

The eerily seductive marimbas that open "The Nurse" make way for White's goth-chill lyrics. It's an unexpected detour from the White Stripes' playbook, to say the least. The random bursts of guitar and drums are jarring, as White tries to maintain a creepy calm. It takes a few listens, but the melody is haunting and strangely alluring. The chirpy "My Doorbell" switches gears again and is as catchy as they come. The hook is so simple and memorable that it's hard to imagine that no one thought of it before now. White pounds his piano and repeats the chorus ad nauseum. It'd be a sugary throwaway if it weren't so damn good.

Jack White's uncanny ability to make the hackneyed ballad feel like a new art form transforms "Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)" into a timeless composition. White is as clever with the words as he is with melding his voice to suit certain moods. Even when the emotion is affected, it still hits home. The childlike excitement of the country sing-along "Little Ghost" is palpable. White's voice squeaks out the words with convincing naïveté. Surprisingly, only when the band covers familiar terrain, as on the rollicking "Instinct Blues", does Get Behind Me Satan sound less than groundbreaking.

Finally, White cracks his guitar into shape on "Red Rain." It's a moody, caustic showdown with White attacking his guitar with fiery aplomb. The artistic jump from Elephant to Get Behind Me Satan is difficult to swallow in one sitting. The album honestly sounds like a heap of throwaways the first few listens. The fact that it was recorded in just two weeks doesn't help that lackluster air, either. It isn't until you've given it your full attention that the album starts to reveal its true depth and worth with songs that stick to your bones. Jack and Meg have calculatedly avoided complacency- a move that often backfires in lesser hands and for lesser bands, but The White Stripes prove that they are stars in the classic sense and above anybody else’s trends.

Tags: review