Album Reviews: Get Behind Me Satan by The White StripesA lot of longtime White Stripes fans were alarmed at how easily Jack White settled into stardom after the huge success of 2003's Elephant. He posed for magazine covers; he preened on big festival stages; he dated an A-list actress and orchestrated the comeback of a legendary country singer. It was almost as if fame was just another instrument for the prodigiously talented White to pick up and bend to his will, the way he'd mastered the slide guitar, the bass and... the marimba?
Yes, Jack White deploys the favored instrument of Hawaiian hotel lounge bands everywhere on the White Stripes' latest, Get Behind Me Satan, but that's just the most obvious of the many ways he thwarts everyone's expectations on this frustrating but still powerful album. Where Elephant seemed calculated to make White a bona fide rock star, Satan feels like a deliberate step sideways, an attempt to destroy or at least dampen the Stripes' mainstream success. Once you get past the opening track and lead single, the blistering "Blue Orchid," only three of the album's remaining twelve tracks feature any electric guitar at all, and most of the others are sparse arrangements featuring only Jack's decidedly primitive piano playing (finally, an instrument he can't master?), Meg White's demo-quality drumming, and occasional touches of acoustic guitar, bass, or that weirdly haunting marimba.
When White's songwriting is in top form, this deliberately un-Stripes-like approach works beautifully, as on "My Doorbell," with its simple but almost funky backbeat, and a bluesy stomper with one of year's best song titles, "The Denial Twist." Elsewhere, however, the piano seems to bring out a lazy streak in White's songwriting -- tracks like "White Moon" and "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)" are all recycled melodies and meaningless wordplay. In his heart of hearts, White's still a guitar man, and it's no surprise that once you get past the '70s-style riffing of "Blue Orchid," the album's best tracks are the ones built around his nimble acoustic work -- the folksy "Little Ghost," "Take, Take, Take," and "As Ugly As I Seem," which could almost pass for a Nick Drake cover.
Ultimately, Get Behind Me Satan at once reveals both Jack White's strengths and his limitations more than any White Stripes album has before. His talent is still undeniable, but he's only human, and Satan is at once the gutsiest and most flawed work he's given us. - Andy Hermann
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