Get Behind Me Satan
Three minutes into 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan, some fans of The White Stripes no doubt wondered if they’d picked up the wrong album—or perhaps had been the victims of some manufacturing mishap. Yes, the tempestuous opener “Blue Orchid” thundered like an answer to “Seven Nation Army,” all shrieking guitars and blunderbuss drums. But the next track, “The Nurse,” began with…marimba, piano, and maracas? Was this really The White Stripes? Indeed, Get Behind Me Satan was the definitive next step in The White Stripes’ dogged evolution, as Jack and Meg White worked to link their trademark directness and drive with new sounds that stretched beyond the duo’s walloping guitar-and-drums origins. “The Nurse” eventually rose into a sort of garage gamelan bash, while “White Moon” was an earnestly crooned bit of piano soul, with Meg waltzing beneath Jack’s existential woe. “It’s the truth, and it don’t make a noise,” he sings, his voice breaking in a lyrical callback to De Stijl. “Every song on that album is about truth,” Jack confirmed to Rolling Stone not long after the release of Get Behind Me Satan. Despite the group’s popularity, and its pivotal role in the early-2000s rock resurgence, The White Stripes were an embattled bunch. Jack and Meg’s long-secret marriage had become tabloid fodder, as had his recent marriage to English model Karen Elson in a canoe on the Amazon River. Naysayers lampooned Meg’s emphatic drumming, or chastised the duo as poseurs or sell-outs. With Get Behind Me Satan, then, Jack and Meg went back on the offensive, using iconic actress Rita Hayworth—referenced here on two tracks—as an instructive example of the ills that the pursuit of fame could bring (and what to do about it). “You took a white orchid,” Jack raged at the start of the album, “and turned it blue.” For a duo again recording at home alone in Detroit, these experiments are remarkably assured. The campfire strum-along of “Little Ghost,” the nursery-rhyme charms of “Passive Manipulation,” and the classic torch-song finale of “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)” all move with the same confidence as The White Stripes’ earliest electric bashes. And rarely had the duo sounded as irate as on “Instinct Blues,” a nasty taunt for the doubters who’d rather get mad than just get down. “I want you to get with it,” Jack sings. It’s as if he’s daring cynics to dismiss what this little Detroit two-piece had accomplished in less than a decade—only to cut them down with the next razor-wire lick.