While absorbing the Blueshammer ersatz and pheromone-scented metallurgy of Icky Thump, the White Stripes’ sixth record, it’s hard not to long for the candy-striped sibs who once sat in that little room, working on something good. Remember them? Way back before the supermodel weddings, Nashville mansions, and sundry side projects? Just Jack on guitar and Meg on drums. So what if she played like a paste-addled fourth-grader? All that stuff about falling in love with a girl, going to Wichita, and seeing rats on the doorstep was as straightforward and vibrant as the wardrobe. Jack himself certainly remembers—on Thump‘s “Little Cream Soda,” he lays aside the thrasher riffs for a second to recall the days when “a wooden box and an alley full of rocks was all I had to care about,” only to toss off the sentiment with a dismissive snarl: “Oh well.”
“Oh well”? Oh well, the affecting style that made them the most imaginative revivalists of their generation has been replaced by half-assed and half-hearted prog rock. Oh well, the pair of blues tunes here (“300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” and “Catch Hell Blues”) have such an awkward gait they actually feel like they’re played by obligated divorcees. Oh well, it sounds like Jack wrote these songs in five minutes and Meg learned them in three. Oh well, the mere fact of being the White Stripes has spoiled the very thing that once made them saviors.
But unless they’re saving the army of Candy Children from a deficiency of Bad Company, tunes like “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You’re Told)” and “Effect & Cause” don’t reinvent the wheel so much as hastily retread it. Owing much to young Ozzy (“Icky Thump”), old Ozzy (“Little Cream Soda”), and Humble Pie (“I’m Slowly Turning Into You”), the rest of Thump ‘s character seems just as lazily borrowed. What’s worse, the scraps of originality—the bullfighting, trumpet-backed fanfare of “Conquest” and the two-part bagpipe jig “Prickly Thorn, but Sweetly Worn/St. Andrew (The Battle Is in the Air)”—are simply absurd.
Which leaves “Rag and Bone,” a half-song/half-skit wherein Meg and Jack talk about ransacking a vast, cluttered room in a sprawling mansion. Jack admits the motive (“Make some money out of ’em, at least!”); “This fits me perfect,” Meg answers in a greedy whisper. They don’t notice that they’re still standing in the same little room they once built, but it’s just become too icky to recognize. Oh well.