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Dynamic duo continue to
astonish with little more than
guitar, drums... and bagpipes!

The White Stripes - Icky Thump
(Warner Bros. Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: June 19, 2007
The White Stripes

Review by Tony Bonyata

Within the simplistic confines of just vocal, guitar and drums The White Stripes have been able to not only continually expand their unique brand of rock & roll (albeit with the occasional mandolin, marimba and glockenspiel thrown in for good measure) but have also been able to successfully reinvent themselves with each ensuing album.

This certainly holds true on their sixth full-length release Icky Thump (the unusual title derived from the phrase 'ecky-thump,' a Northern England colloquialism of surprise or amazement). While this collection rocks harder than their last outing on the piano and marimba driven Get Behind Me Satan, with Jack White's bombastic guitars howling and screeching throughout, along with Meg White's primitive and powerful drumming, it also employs more of the blues that originally fueled the duos' earliest efforts - their 1999 self-titled debut and the follow-up De Stijl (the latter which I still consider their finest record to date). But just as the band pushed the boundaries as they experimented with more country and Latin American sounds on Get Behind Me Satan, the former Detroit duo (Jack now resides in Nashville where Icky Thump was recorded) have added not only a Mediterranean flair with a cover of Patti Page's early '50s number "Conquest," complete with Spanish trumpet and flamenco-ing heavy guitar riffage, but have also tapped into their own Scottish roots with the inclusion of bagpipes on the lively reel "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn." They also incorporate this odd, yet lovely sounding instrument on "St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)," which, with a dizzying dervish of bagpipes, guitar squalls and Meg's stream of consciousness lyrics, creates an unsettling sound as if the ancient Scots were the first to stage a psychedelic freak-out.

Even when the duo occasionally retrace their own musical steps from the past, they do so without seeming too obvious. On "Little Cream Soda" Jack's spastic, rapping vocal delivery on the brontosaurus stomp-rock of "Little Cream Soda" is slightly reminiscent of one of their early B-sides "Red Bowling Ball Ruth," while the album's closing track "Effect & Cause" recalls the front-porch country drawl of another one of their earlier B-sides - the wonderful rereading of Loretta Lynn's "Rated X."

Despite once again looking outside of their small box on this effort, they're still most effective when they stick to what inspired them as youths when they first formed ten years ago - the blues. On "Catch Hell Blues" Jack's long-snake-moan of Delta blues guitar plays cat-and-mouse with Meg's simplistic time-keeping, and, despite its title, "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues" turns out to be their most cordial, well-behaved blues number to date. Things turn a bit nastier, however, on the snarling blues smoker "Rag and Bone" (a rather humorous number with Jack & Meg playing door-to-door junk collectors in England), the primordial rocker "Bone Broke," which could be the closest thing to classic rock that The Stripes have produced to date, as well as the nostril-flaring title track (a song that not only finds Jack wearing his political sentiments toward the immigration debate on his sleeve as he howls, "White Americans, What? Nothing better to do? Why don't you kick yourself out, you're an immigrant too," but also, surprisingly, is their first Top Forty single in the U.S. - charting at #26 on Billboard).

It's amazing that as the state of rock & roll continues to ebb-and-flow, just a boy and a girl are able to continually push the envelope and keep things fresh with little more than a guitar and drums... well, that and the occasional bagpipe. Ecky-thump!

Watch The White Stripes' - "Icky Thump" video

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