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REVIEW: Help, I've been possessed by the White Stripes Get Behind Me Satan!

Posted by Al Barger on June 23, 2005 04:54 AM (See all posts by Al Barger)

The new White Stripes album Get Behind Me Satan has possesed my soul. However, I have absolutely no desire for an exorcism. Instead, I'd rather continue listening to this album several times a day, as I have since the day of release.

Actually though, it'd be closer to say that the album inspires a bit of the spiritual depth that caused Pete Townshend to describe rock music as a religion. I Peter 3:15 says "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you." So here I go.

I do SO enjoy getting to gush on about how cool a new record is, like the world's giddiest fanboy. Yet there are so few pop acts at this point with the compositional skills to write an album to inspire this gushing. We're lucky to get one or two albums a year with the song hooks, real unique emotional communication, and distinctive sound. Here's one.

Really, every single song here is worthwhile, but the frustrated romance with the "Little Ghost" sounds like it should be the slightly freaky hit single, in that while featuring sharp hooks it doesn't sound like it'd blend right in between tuneless 50 Cent posturing and the weary angst of Coldplay. It's a damned catchy tune, with hard charging acoustic rhythm guitars that have enough change up to keep them interesting. It's simply constructed and has a really memorable lyric. Jack has described this song as "bluegrass," though that doesn't seem quite right from the arrangement. I might call it "folk." I eagerly await a Del McCoury cover to get real bluegrass out of it.

Moreover, all those catchy rhythm guitars and intricate vocal harmonies carry the best lyric on the album. The lyrics are straightforward and even carefully enunciated, but they describe simply a weirdly complicated emotion. "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." He gets a lot of good detail in a succint 2:18.

Personally, I'm probably most obsessively possessed by the freaky groove of "The Nurse." It describes a state of seemingly paranoid suspicion of a caregiver. "The nurse should not be the one to put salt in your wounds." Thus the main vocal hook of the chorus is the nurse's unconvincing re-assurances, "No I'm never, no I'm never going to let you down."

"The Nurse" doesn't sound like anything else you've ever heard. It's built on a gentle marimba riff, with a soft shuffling maraca. The melody is tender and contemplative. That's already a pretty unique sound. Then they lay on these little bits of very loud, heavily mixed bits of crashing drums and guitar, memorably right before dropping back quietly in the release of the chorus.

Jack White certainly knows his business. I'm not sure if this album is quite Beatle level good- that's a pretty high bar. But Jack surely knows how to exploit the full possibilities of his basic songs.

For example, the first song and lead single "Blue Orchid" has a couple of good melodic hooks, but arguably minimal development, judged by the strictest standards. The tune would not make Richard Rodgers or Elvis Costello green with envy.

However, he's got just a killer swingin' guitar riff that almost singlehandedly makes the song. The more I hear that guitar, the more I want to hear it. Then he's putting across the tune in this crazed falsetto. He's wringing all the good potential he can get out of the basic tune.

Also, he knows when to shut the hell up. "Blue Orchid" makes a good example of White's artistic discipline and concision. Most particularly here, this means not padding out the length of the song. It clocks in at 2:37. He had about two and half minutes worth of song, then he stops it dead. Most bands these days would have just padded it out to four or five minutes- and the impact of the song would simply be diluted. Likewise, shorter is more for the "Little Ghost." Make the point and get out.

The concision discipline here consists not only of not padding the songs out, but also in not padding them up. That is, he doesn't pile up a bunch of unnecessary crap on top of his basic songs. Operationally, he has enforced this idea by having only Meg and himself play on the album- just the two of them, with no outside help or studio musicians. They get really good effect from this self-imposed box. Also crucial to this optimum effect though, they have significant wiggle room in the studio to multitrack several parts.

He also shows particularly wise artistic discipline with his guitar playing. Jack's rightly known as a hot shot guitar player, yet only maybe three or four of these songs feature fancy electric guitar. Like Richard Thompson, Jack White has the sense not to indulge in wankery. The guitar playing stays focused on serving the actual song. His biggest guitar showcase here is the "Instinct Blues" which clocks in at a modest 4:16- most of which is invested in the main tune of the thing.

Cutting back the guitars makes room for some good marimba parts in several places, starting obviously with "The Nurse." Jack really gets some outstanding instrumental color out of the instrument. As a supporting instrument, his marimbas really top off the lament of "Forever for Her (Is over for me)." They really give it some flava.

Words certainly must be said in praise of the beautiful lightly soured melancholy of the closing "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)." That's just a beautiful melody, and that simple gospel piano sets it off just right. On a CD mix disc, this would make a good sour side by side with the sweet "That's the Way (I'm Only Trying to Help You)" from the Culture Club. That'd make good contrasting emotional flavor from two stylistically similar songs.

I'll say one thing sort of against the album: Most of the song titles are not reflected in the principle vocal hooks of the songs, making it challenging to remember most of the song titles. The words "take take take" appear in the lyrics of a song apparently about a presumptuous and demanding fan, but they're not the hook. That comes from about a dozen and half variations of "xxx... and that was all that I needed." This puts me in mind of Steve Martin's Jerk, Navin R Johnson, gathering up an ashtray and then a paddle ball, etc, "...and that's all I need." The title "Take Take Take" makes sense, but it's not the main thing you'd remember from the song. Likewise with "The Nurse."

The White Stripes achieve a really good edge of seeming rawness or immediacy. It's somewhat like the effect of Exile on Main Street, except that this is probably a better overall set of songs. They've made a big point of how quickly this album was created, a mere couple of weeks, coming in with the songs not even finished.

Yet listening closely, the record's not ragged, everything's really smoothly in the right place. It's like they got the perfect balance of practicing the songs just enough to get a good sharp, well thought out performance- but not enough to get bored with it. Plus, they don't overly process the recording.

Moreover, they get some good mileage out of some carefully skewed choices in the mixing, putting certain things way, way up in the mix in a jarring manner. Note particularly the guitar and drums in "The Nurse."

The album title seems deliciously ambiguous. Jesus rebuked Satan saying "Get thee behind me, Satan." However, "Get behind me Satan" is a significantly different statement. This sounds more like he's asking for the dark lord's support. I'm running for mayor, and I'd like you to get behind my candidacy. Something like that. Imagine Jack White cast in the place of Jon Lovitz' characterization of Satan. "Follow me, become my willing servants."

Yes, Jack.






PHOTOS PAGE 4   Loretta Lynn and Jack White Gallery

PHOTOS PAGE 5   Meg White Gallery 1

PHOTOS PAGE 6   Meg White Gallery 2

PHOTOS PAGE 7   Meg White Gallery 3

PHOTOS PAGE 8   Meg White Gallery 4




Up against the wall, Mariah Carey!


"Seven Nation Army"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto I

"Jimmy the Exploder"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto II

"Sugar Never Tasted So Good"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto III

"You're Pretty Good Looking"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto IV

"Hello Operator"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto V

"Apple Blossom"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto VI

"Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto VII

"We're Going To Be Friends"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto VIII

"Fell in Love With a Girl"  White Stripes Nation Manifesto IX

"Hotel Yorba" White Stripes Nation Manifesto X

"There's No Home For You Here" White Stripes Nation Manifesto XI



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