Remember the Great Rock Revolution of 2001? Hoo boy, those were the days. Those who weren’t knee-deep in Creed took to sporting the ripped jeans/skinny tie combo, with perhaps the disheveled hipster ‘fro—all the while proclaiming “Strokes and Stripes forever,” and anxiously checking nme.com for news on the latest influx of “The” bands being snapped up by Rough Trade. But unlike the more egregious post-grunge rock revolutions (I’m talking to you, nü-metal), the new millennium’s nod to scrappy rock n’ roll and its supposed epicenters (New Yawk and Dee-troit) was relatively brief. The Star Spangles and a few dozen other bands put out albums in the wake of the scrappy rock feeding frenzy, and no one gave a fuck. Dudes with goatees didn’t shave in order to adopt the new “hip” Lower East Side look, and their ballcaps remained perched backward. Punk-pop remained puerile and profitable. And even within the trenches of the rapidly retreating revolution, fissures were evident. The Strokes released a fine follow-up that had absolutely nothing to do with garage rock (come to think of it, neither did Is This It) and too few people bought it for the masses to take notice.
Meanwhile, The White Stripes decamped to England, recorded an album on old analog gear as they’ve always done, and managed to sell several million copies worldwide of their Elephant. Oh, and there was the odd bar brawl and tabloid-worthy romance to throw in there too. The danger in analyzing the work made during a certain time frame is to lump it in with the surrounding conditions, rather than extricating it from its time and appreciating it for its own value. And that’s why The White Stripes are indeed special—throughout their recorded career of five albums, they have not made anything that can be tied to one time and place. Their music is imbued with a primal vitality—a red guitar that howls with metallic blues, drums that thump and pound with the uneven thrust of creatures in heat. And while their latest, Get Behind Me Satan, isn’t quite as ferocious as its immediate predecessors, it’s every bit as timeless.
True, the debut single “Blue Orchid” seems tailor-made to hit the hipster clubs and modern rock radio simultaneously, but there’s plenty here that isn’t nearly as immediate but much more satisfying. When Jack lays down his cherry red plexiglass axe and sits behind the piano, he bangs out some of the album’s best moments: take, for example, the safe bet for a second single, the sugar-sweet “My Doorbell,” which marries the fizziest of pop melodies to a soulful ‘60s Motown shuffle. Then there are the curiosities: “The Nurse” combines marimba, lyrics evoking Dylan at his trippiest, and occasional bursts of drum wallop from Meg. There’s the bluegrass lilt of “Little Ghost,” which would sound more at home on the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou. And there’s the plaintive solo turn that closes the album, “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet),” steeped in heartbroken “woe is me” wordplay but delivered with a solemn sincerity that tells you that Jack ain’t playin’.
Sure, there are some tracks that merit the odd skip-over—“Passive Manipulation” is just this side of too twee—but for those who knew that Jack White was capable of full-on fuzzy fury even from the days of De Stijl, there’s plenty to be happy with here. Check the slide guitar snaking through “Red Rain,” or the brutal blast of “Instinct Blues.” Get lost in the Exile On Main Street-styled shimmy and shake of “Take, Take, Take.” As always with The White Stripes, their latest invites you to thrill to the imperfections—forget about shaman-conducted weddings to supermodels and all the other celebrity noise floating around about Jack and Meg and take solace in the unbridled honesty of simple, solid rock n’ roll. While Satan may be standing on the shoulders of Elephant, it doesn’t stand in its shadow.