We now return you to your regularly scheduled White Stripes. After the stylistic detour of Get Behind Me Satan—a good record, if a bit too stubbornly one-note—Jack and Meg White return to form on Icky Thump, an album of crushing riffs and winking bad-boy patter, steeped in blues, country, and the arena-filling mythology of Led Zeppelin. The key to The White Stripes has always been Jack White's persona: part hypester put-on, part sincere shilling for the ecstatic, liberating effect of roots music. Icky Thump adds some wheedling psychedelic organ on the title track, and mystical-sounding bagpipes on the mini-suite "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn"/"St Andrew (The Battle Is In The Air)," but the album's real gimmick is Jack White, revisiting the playful goof familiar to fans of White Stripes songs like "Astro" and "You're Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl)."
There's a lot more chatter on Icky Thump, from Meg White's haunted monologue on "St. Andrew" to Jack's resigned rant on "Little Cream Soda" to the duo's comic give-and-take on the junkman sketch "Rag And Bone." And that swagger extends to the music, with its spontaneous tempo shifts and loud-quiet dynamics, demonstrating The White Stripes' interest in the transient qualities of performance. The heart of this album is in the little fillips at the end of a guitar solo, and Jack White's carnival-barker growl.
The band's in-the-moment approach doesn't always pan out: Icky Thump is marred by a couple of mid-song instrumental vamps that go nowhere, and by a succession of dirge-y songs toward the end. But it's hard not to be just a little in love with an album that includes songs as entertaining as the flamenco-core workout "Conquest" and the cheerfully pissy Faces-style shuffle "Effect And Cause." If nothing else, this record is fun.