Icky Thump

Icky Thump

On Icky Thump, The White Stripes did not sound like a band that was about to walk offstage for good. Jack and Meg White had gone rogue on 2005’s Get Behind Me Satan, using piano as the basis for most of its riotous songs. But during the break between sessions, Jack toured with one of his other groups, The Raconteurs, and fell in love with playing guitar again while swapping nightly licks with Brendan Benson. That became the springboard for the songs that came next, along with the Hammond organ Jack now kept in his living room. From the sidewinding riff of its opening title cut to the nervy acoustic strums of closer “Effect and Cause,” Icky Thump, released in 2007, suggested a band reenergized by the basics. What’s more, the Stripes had finally graduated from making records in Jack’s living room with small havens of analog gear. The duo instead opted for Blackbird Studio, a sprawling Nashville complex founded by country star Martina McBride and her husband, John. “With The White Stripes, we were always scared of big studios and how we’d end up sounding too polished, or having to fight through modernity to sound real,” Jack told Total Guitar magazine. “But we’ve done a few albums now, and I think we have enough experience behind us to know what we want.” The resulting album is as expansive and exquisite as it is explosive; the band’s jagged contours captured with a precision that feels sculptural. “Little Cream Soda” is a monstrous reassertion of their search-and-destroy fundamentals, while the junkyard novelty tune “Rag and Bone” gets back to the humor that had long been key to the band. But this wasn’t sheer revanchism. While the licks of “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do as You’re Told)” conjure a Badfinger open-road anthem, the mandolin strums, bagpipes drone, and near-yodels of “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” suggest Led Zeppelin crisscrossing Scotland for inspiration. After six albums, The White Stripes still seemed full of momentum and possibility. But on the last day of July 2007, Meg stepped off a stage in northern Mississippi, just south of Memphis, and said she was done—for reasons she never fully made public. Was it Meg’s shyness and anxiety? Or was it the misogynist assaults on her unabashed drumming style? Whatever caused the split, it couldn’t dim the power and joy of one of the most powerful rock ’n’ roll runs of the 21st century. And listening to Icky Thump now, it’s impossible not to wonder where The White Stripes might have roamed next. “I’d make a White Stripes record right now,” Jack said five years after the duo’s demise. “That band is the most challenging, important, fulfilling thing ever to happen to me... It’s something I really, really miss.” Millions of listeners can relate.

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