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Their fifth album proves they've earned their stripes

June 05, 2005|Robert Hilburn

White Stripes

"Get Behind Me Satan" (Third Man/V2)

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One of the most fascinating things about the Stripes' fifth album is that on first listening it is likely to baffle fans of the Detroit duo as much as it will eventually delight them.

Though Jack White's trademark sound -- the blistering blues-rock guitar assault of such popular numbers as "Seven Nation Army" -- shows up in a few places, the heart of "Satan" moves to fresher sonic turf.

One of the album's most startling moments is when it steps from the guitar combustion of the opening "Blue Orchid" (sung in an almost perversely falsetto shriek) to the gentle marimbas of "The Nurse" (sung with much restraint).

The thrilling thing from that moment on is that you never know quite what to expect as each new song arrives. Some tracks start with just Meg White's drumming, others with Jack White's grand piano. There's even a bluegrass hoedown in the middle of everything. And when White's explosive guitar does return (in "Instinct Blues"), it sounds all the more dynamic.

If all this instrumental intrigue keeps the listener guessing on one level, the themes are equally unpredictable. These immensely personal tales of lust and betrayal are as old as Adam and Eve and as fresh as your latest heartache.

In the past, White was a master of updating the primal emotions of the blues and country heroes of his youth. Now he declares his independence. In the this utterly absorbing work, White is no longer focused on paying homage to the past. Now he's boldly immersed in his own journey.



Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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