The White Stripes
WHAT THEY SAY: Well, this is a very . . . different record, and it's weird, and it takes a long time to get into, if you can even get into it at all, and it doesn't sound anything like the usual White Stripes, so . . . it must be genius!
WHAT WE SAY: An obviously rushed set of average-to-poor White Stripes songs, each sadly quirkier than the last: processed disco drums ("The Nurse"), poisonously cute Stevie Wonder piano ("My Doorbell"), new lyrics for age-old standard "Wreck of the Ol' 97" ("Little Ghost") and Meg reluctantly reading some cue cards into a vintage mic ("Passive Manipulation," which is Satan's built-in bathroom break). The publicity says the White Stripes wrote and recorded Satanin two weeks, a starvation-diet sort of bid to force a certain raw authenticity. But while Satandoes sometimes deliver an appealing looseness—the slippery, unrehearsed guitar break on "Instinct Blues"—that's the sort of pity compliment the White Stripes should have stopped deserving two albums back. This would have been laughed to shreds if people weren't so used to rubber-stamping everything Jack White does: Satansounds like unfinished demos dumped out to meet a deadline, with a few exceptions that hint at the real potential wasted in this two-week session. The strongest songs—the songs that aren't just one repetitive riff dressed up in lots of different outfits—are Jack's slow and sad solo works "As Ugly As I Seem" and "I'm Lonely (But I'm Not That Lonely Yet)." Unlike the rest of the record, which seems like it arrived at the studio bristling with Post-it notes like "PUT MARIMBA HERE!" and "GET SOME GOOD DRUM SAMPLEZ!!!", "Ugly" and "Lonely" are complete and coherent songs performed—as they were written—by one man with one instrument (plus, like, bongo overdubs, but that's only sort of an instrument): "Ugly" snips a melody from the Thirteenth Floor Elevators' "Fire Engine" and adds it to the Kinks' "Tell Me Now So I'll Know," and the solemn piano on "Lonely"—which would have been a beautiful if uncommercial single—lightens a Plastic Ono Band confessional with a gospel melody from Sam Cooke's Soul Stirrers. The evidence (if you're looking) to prove the White Stripes' evolution is there and only there, not in mistaking the clenched-teeth novelty on the rest of Satanfor innovation. But then again: Jack White has always been a capable and flexible songwriter, with the same sort of chameleon ability as Lou Reed (and until now, without the same inconsistency). Expecting the White Stripes to put out a trick poodle of an album just to prove they don't have to play loud all the time demeans us all.
BEST PART: "White Moon," an embarrassing geyser of June/spoon baby-babble, which peaks with White's line ". . . and the word is the bird." V2 Records presents: Great Moments in Man Completely Not Giving a Shit.
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