Icky Thump

New music is fun again. I first heard this album on the radio a few days before it hit stores. I was so surprised. I was listening to a local commercial radio station*, and the DJ said, “Tonight at 11 o’clock I’m going to play the new White Stripes album straight through.” I found a cassette tape and I recorded the thing. I felt like I was nine years old again, recording music off the radio. It was awesome. I listened to the tape a couple of times. I’ve always thought the White Stripes sounded good on tape. I guess they would sound great on vinyl, with their analog obsession. It was so nice to hear the album like that on the radio, with the DJ cutting in now and then to make comments and play commercials. It made it feel real and alive.

For a while I made a habit of downloading new albums off the clandestine album blogs as soon as they leaked, sometimes weeks or months before their commercial release. I always justified it by the fact that I wanted to hear if they were any good before I bought them, and that if I liked the album, when it came out I would buy it. And many of these albums I did buy. But there’s something about not having to wait and not having to pay, not having to interact with anyone in any way, that makes the event of hearing new music feel anemic. It’s not earned. It’s just some files on your ipod. The ritual of going to the store and buying the thing, the ritual of putting on the record or the CD, is gone. It becomes more important that you heard something first, rather than that you heard it well. Say what you will, I’ve come to feel that, in addition to being dishonest, stealing the music seems to cheapen the music. Well, I stopped it a couple of months ago, and I’m glad I did. I can wait. I can be patient and honest. No one was ever impressed that someone had heard an album first, anyway. And then, hearing music on the radio for the first time becomes a treat, too.

So, about the album itself. It’s the White Stripes, so unsurprisingly, it’s another interesting, solid effort that calls for instant rock album canonization. It has that energy of some of their early stuff, but it has more studio craft. And they finally found a way for Meg’s vocals to add to the equation: shouting! And spoken word. No pitchy, willfully awkward Meg songs here. I’d love to hear even more of her this way. At any rate, another great rock and roll record from America’s finest. And if you never liked the White Stripes and have no desire to start liking them, I don’t think this one is going to change your mind.

*I guess since they do sweet things like play White Stripes albums all the way through, I ought to give them credit. It was X96 in Salt Lake City.

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