Though I’ve been making a concerted effort to do things like study and fulfill my duties as the assistant copy chief here at the Pitt News instead of spiraling further into music nerd-dom (lest I end up penniless and forced to build myself a crude shelter out of my copies of Sonic Youth side projects and Captain Beefheart LPs), I did finally pick up the The White Stripes’ new record.
Get Behind Me Satan, their fifth album, was apparently recorded at breakneck speed at Third Man Studios earlier this year. Since the band’s stellar second album, De Stijl, was recorded in Jack and Meg’s living room, I found this factoid encouraging at first, since one of the problems I had with Elephant, their fourth release, was that it was a bit overproduced for my taste.
Then I actually listened to the album.
It begins with the popular single, “Blue Orchid,” which, while catchy, sounds like the band is doing an impression of Jet as some kind of sick joke. And while Jack White has always written songs heavy on vaguely cheesy sexual innuendo, the lyrics to “Blue Orchid” are almost as creepy as the mustache he’s sporting on the album cover. I figured, though, that things could only get better now that the hit single was out of the way.
Then I got to “The Nurse” and realized how wrong I was.
Jack, come here. Let’s talk. Is everything OK at home? I think that Beck kid is a bad influence on you. Step away from the marimbas.
After the repetitive and unremarkable third and fourth songs, I realized that my beloved band is trying to recycle, and not in that nice, environmentally conscious kind of way: “Little Ghost” really wants to be this album’s “Hotel Yorba.” It’s not.
Then, in “The Denial Twist,” Jack White is almost rapping. This frightens me. Jack, please don’t try to be funky.
Finally, a little more than halfway through the album, I heard the sound of some real blues guitar. The clouds parted, a smile snuck its way across my face and all was right with the world for a couple of minutes. The lyrics to “Instinct Blues” aren’t exactly life-changing (“The flies get it/and the frogs get it/and all them big jungle cats get it”) but that delicious, bluesy, shake-your-hips guitar sound is back and more ferocious than ever. It’s no “Stop Breaking Down,” but I’ll take what I can get.
All I have to say about “Passive Manipulation” is that the band’s drummer, Meg White, should never sing lead. It’s kind of cute when she sings along at Jack’s urging on stage, but this is just painful.
“Red Rain,” too, is a welcome break from all the eccentric percussion and piano-driven songs that dominate this album. It does sort of scream, “Hello, this is this record’s Led Zeppelin tribute!” but S is for slide guitar, and that’s good enough for me.
Get Behind Me Satan ends with “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet),” a country-inspired ballad. White’s voice sounds good here — earnest and off-kilter and a bit like Bob Dylan — but the song itself is nothing special. The song that comes before “Red Rain,” “As Ugly As I Seem,” is a better piece of the band’s earnest ballad repertoire.
The White Stripes have unfortunately lost their focus, and if Jack White’s bizarre little essay in the album booklet is any indication, possibly their minds as well. Get Behind Me Satan is more than a little disappointing, and its redeeming qualities don’t make it worth the price of a new album. Spend your money on their first three records instead.
You can’t borrow mine, though, because I’ll be listening to them over and over for the next few days to try and repair the marimba-related mental damage I’ve incurred in the last few hours listening to this album.
P.S. Check out the comments on this page.