The Detroit blues minimalists turn in their most widescreen offering yet.
Chris Jones 2007
At what point does alternative become mainstream? Six albums in and the White Stripes have a big fat Warners contract in their pocket and fill Hyde Park. In interviews Jack seems more enamoured of his new playmates, The Raconteurs. Is the end nigh? Or have the Detroit blues minimalists still got things to say?
Like all great acts the answer is a bit of both. While Icky Thump has plenty of overblown moments it also still contains all the things that made us love them in the first place. A track like ''300MPH Torrential Outpour Blues'' seems to sum this up in one handy five and a half-minute lump. It’s remarkably pretty. But it also contains some of his most meanderingly flaccid lyrics, and the shift from bayou lament to urban grit can be unsettling.
Yet the bulk of Icky Thump is still made up of terrific, concise blues-rock, force-fed through Jack’s Motor City pugnacity. ''Catch Hell Blues''’ slide antics are pure Jimmy Page, and “Effect & Cause” is the perfect marriage of amusingly twisted logic and delta twelve-bar goodness. There’s also a touch of country rock floating in Icky Thump’s DNA. “You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)” could be Crazy Horse’s ''C’mon Baby Let’s Go Downtown''.
While this makes perfect sense, the use of bagpipes (an instrument where nine times out of ten discretion is the better part of valour), on "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn", frankly fails on every level. This cod-Hibernian romp smacks of cultural tourism. Likewise “Rag And Bone”‘s self-mythologising of the band’s magpie tendencies. These are the tropes of a band in flux.
Elsewhere however instrumentation can be inspired. "Conquest"'s mariachi horn is hilariously in-yer-face and the title track benefits mightily from the use of the very same keyboard that graced “Telstar”; played like some wiggly psychedelic worm.
This track’s wigged-out metallic riff underpins some terrific lyrics concerning his homeland’s relationship with third world neighbours. But when he sings ‘You can’t be a pimp and a prostitute too’ you can’t help wondering if there’s an element of his own conscience nagging at him to return to simpler days. Whether they ever survive such a sea change to make another album is to be seen. We can only hope so…