By Michael Petitti
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
On The White Stripes fifth full-length, Get Behind Me Satan, Jack and Meg White have drawn the proverbial line-in-the-sand. They challenge listeners, casual and die-hards alike, to stay on board or take a hike. The result: a derisive and often brilliant album about heartbreak, loneliness and, yes, even ghost-love.
The band kicks things off with “Blue Orchid,” a fairly obvious choice for first single and opening track. The song is a mildly skewered take on the band’s winning combination of guitar-and-drum garage rock, the only real difference being Jack’s whimpering falsetto and keyboard-esque guitar squeaks. The lyrics are bitter and possibly a stab at ex-gal pal Renee Zellweger (who recently roped herself a far inferior musical love partner in country star Kenny Chesney), when White sings, “You got a reaction/ You got a reaction didn’t you?/ You took a white orchid/ You took a white orchid and turned it blue.”
After immediately satisfying listeners with “Blue Orchid,” the band begins to challenge them with the marimba calls of “The Nurse.” The track casually struts through its tropical-tinged verses with moments of furious guitar and drum noise adding an overall sinister flavor to the mix. The song is a gamble that pays off nicely and leaves the band sounding as dangerous as ever.
Other highlights include the bouncy stomp of “My Doorbell,” which finds Jack rocking a piano à la Jerry Lee Lewis, and the bluegrass mandolin dance of “Little Ghost,” which features some intriguing triple-tracked vocals by Jack’s various personalities.
The White Stripes
8 out of 10
- “Get Behind Me Satan”
- Label: V2 Records / BMG
The latter song highlights the playful brilliance The White Stripes are capable of, as it balances the emotion of misunderstood love through the outrageous example of love beyond the grave with the lyrics, “Little ghost, little ghost/ one I’m scared of the most/ can you scare me up a little bit of love?/ I’m the only one that sees you/ and I can’t do much to please you/ and it’s not yet time to meet the Lord above.”
When it comes to problems with The White Stripes’ records, critics usually look towards Meg, whose drumming has often been the focal point of much harsh criticism. However, this time around Meg appears to have come to terms with both her elementary drumming and her proper place within “Jack’s grand scheme.”
For the record, Jack recently claimed during an NPR interview that he discourages Meg from practicing too much in order to keep her drumming raw and amateur. True or not, it works this time around. In fact, the generic Meg complaint may have run its course as the group was even savvy enough to poke fun at her vocal performance (an oft dissed addition from previous album Elephant) this time around by giving her fewer lyrics (a couple sentences) and much less time (roughly 35 seconds).
No, the troubles with Get Behind Me Satan rarely come from the band members or the actual songs, but rather from what’s lacking. While it may hardly seem fair to harangue the band for what they didn’t include, the album begs for such complaints. Although it is fascinating that Jack is more interested in trying out new, or at least, alternative instruments for the lead (piano, marimba, mandolin), it seems an obvious stunt for him to shy away from the electric guitar as much as he does.
Distorted freak-outs, like those on “Red Rain” and the crawling fuzzed out licks of “Instinct Blues,” show that Jack can wail at will and with the best of them. However, the history of this album (which was recorded and released within weeks with some songs unfinished at the time the band began recording them) leave these songs as little more than sketches that fill in the spaces between more realized and enjoyable tunes like the jangly stalker-rocker “Take, Take, Take” and the Caribbean love jam “Forever For Her (Is Over for Me).”
The missteps on Get Behind Me Satan come more from the band’s attempts at bold experiments than any actual flaw in their skills or ability. This is, of course, a good thing and clearly bodes well for the future of the band, which seems to be getting sharper with each release.
The White Stripes remain one of current music’s most daring and original interpreters of rock, garage, blues and country and any doubts can be quelled by album closer, “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet).” The song is garage rock’s answer to Hank Williams “I’m so Lonesome I Could Cry.” Jack, on piano moans about lost opportunity and sounds equal parts lonely and satisfied with, “And I love my sister/ Lord knows how I’ve missed her/ she loves me and she knows I won’t forget/ sometimes I get jealous of all her little pets/ and I get lonely, but I ain’t that lonely yet.”
With Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes have set the bar phenomenally high for all that will follow. For once, the recommendation to get behind Satan is sound.