Thoughts on Icky Thump: First Listen to the New Single From the White Stripes

Although it was released towards the end of April, (the 26 I think), I have been avoiding listening to the new single, "Icky Thump", from the White Stripes. I had decided after reading some earlier first glimpses that I would prepare by throwing out all my previously conceived notions of what it would be like and just wait and see attempting to be as much of a clean slate as possible for my first listen through and by avoiding hearing the single was part of this plan.

Well... I failed miserably today as I caught the song playing on the radio (one of the first times I've had on any radio but classic rock stations in months) and was so struck by the song that I had to seek out other radio rips, unofficial music videos and other people's first impressions.

Some interesting ones so far are these from Stereogum:

And these similar ones posted over at Deaf Indie Elephants:

At first listen I was floored because the song is in the same vein as all other White Stripes tracks, but so distinctly different that until it was over I didn't assume it was them at all. The song does have a slight more urban feel than other White Stripes tracks but nothing too extreme. With screeching fractured guitar and a truly thumping back beat, the song certainly is catchy in an of kilter disjointed sort of way, (it's a good thing, trust me) and it sounds like one of the harder and more aggressive tracks the band has ever done. I'm sure it will be amazing live, but then again so is everything they do. It has some of the same noise experimentation as their previous album, but harsher and pushed farther to the point that it is a bit more experimentation that straight forward songwriting (again, a good thing). With some interesting additions, like mellotron (at least I'm pretty sure it's mellotron), this increases the range that the band can play that much more.

One of the things I've always liked best about this band is that their music sounds very immediate, even when using advanced recording techniques it doesn't sound over produced, but instead retains a sense of spontaneity. Some bands work forever trying to capture a particular mood or style. Some accomplish it fantastically, while others seem to always be reaching for something they can't quite grasp. The White Stripes have always sounded different to me, more live, more perfection in imperfection, more "let the chips fall where they may." Some parts are still crafted for a specific purpose but they seem to have a firm understanding that sometimes whatever comes naturally and immediately, will be better at capturing that feel and have more character, than anything that can be expertly crafted to perfection.

This song definitely fits in with that idea, especially in the guitar work... and the vocals... and the drums... and well everything. I've been a big fan of Jack White's guitar work since I first heard them play live. He can go from subtle to scorchingly bombastic at will, at the perfect moment, completely spontaneous and loose the entire time with plenty of character to make the music sound that much more alive. I think this song really captures a bit of that live spirit, style and improvisational technique very well.

Lyrically it looks like they're breaking new ground too. With beat style and social comment based lyrics, this song may also be the most immediately political song they've done with some references to direct issues. With interesting images and phrasing, it sounds straight from the soul though, not written but maybe just recanted off the cuff in a bit of a poetic rant.

On first listen I was hooked. Sure, my plan to be a clean slate when I first heard the music has failed, but I can honestly say that I've never been more pumped for the new album. Overall, I think it is a great song that further proves the point that the White Stripes are not only one of the greatest modern rock bands, but are also one of the more innovative and unique bands of all time.

This will now be the duo's sixth album and it is easy to hear a progression in the White Stripes music if you've listened to all 6 like I have, but through it all, they still keep their unique style of songwriting at heart. "Icky Thump" is a great example that they surely aren't rehashing old material and will continue to evolve and break their own musical boundaries while still remaining Jack and Meg.

Can't wait to hear the rest of the album.

You can check out one of the radio rips I downloaded to hear the track if you haven't heard it yet, here at Little Radio, some others out there have already had to be taken down:


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