Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The White Stripes Go Emotional And Softer With Get Behind Me Satan

The Good: Good vocals, Most lyrics, Cool title and cover, Cohesive quality, Decent instrumentals
The Bad: Repetitive lyrics on some tracks, Underdeveloped tracks
The Basics: Get Behind Me Satan offers listeners a complete listening experience that is more diverse than earlier White Stripes works, but without a strong single.

The White Stripes leapt out of obscurity with their album Elephant (reviewed here!), powered by the amazing single "Seven Nation Army." "Seven Nation Army" had an impressive video and was a direct, pounding song that refused to be denied, making it ideal to take a duet with a limited fan base (they had three albums before Elephant) into the mainstream. It worked. Eager to keep their star in ascendancy, The White Stripes followed up with Get Behind Me Satan.

Get Behind Me Satan is a very different album from Elephant. Unlike Elephant, which was propelled by a single single, Get Behind Me Satan is a rather complete listening experience without a recognizable single. That is not to say that the songs cannot stand on their own, but rather the majority of the songs flow from one to another in such a way that makes it clear that the album is a complete listening experience, as opposed to a collection of individual songs.

One of the most notable aspects of Get Behind Me Satan is the musical variety. Unlike Elephant which was very much rock, of the heavier variety, this album is a collection of songs ranging from ballads ("Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)") to folk ("Little Ghost") to straight out rock and roll ("Blue Orchid"). So the musical styles change track to track and that bodes well for listening to the album repeatedly. The ear is kept off balance and attentive, interested.

Essentially, The White Stripes is a duet, Meg and Jack White and as a result, much of their music is performed on a limited number of instruments per song. So, for example, "The Denial Twist" has vocals by Jack, piano and tambourine. It has a fairly complete sound, but the truth is the tracks have musical variety (styles), but not so much in the way of musical depth (layers of sound to work through and process, usually defined by number of instruments). This is not necessarily a problem, but it does limit the songs on the album some.

Jack White does the majority of the vocals (Meg sings "Passive Manipulation" alone) and he does a fine job. He is emotive and he has a pleasant singing voice, articulating well in most of the songs. Much of what works for Jack is that he wrote all of the songs, so he writes to his own talents.

As for the lyrics, here there is a mixed bag. Some of the songs are terribly repetitive, like "Take, Take, Take" and "Passive Manipulation." Jack ends up singing the same things over and over and over again and while it might not be a noteworthy detraction for the first few listens, by the time one plays the album twenty times, even after some time away from the album, the experience becomes a bit grating.

Likewise, some of the lyrics are just plain ridiculous. In "Instinct Blues," Jack does a long string of rhymes - shoe/do/blue/two/you - that breaks up a stanza of lines that all end with "with it" and the song is notably dull as a result. It seems like "Instinct Blues" is more about sound than actually saying anything and it's unfortunate in an album that is otherwise packed with meaning.

Take "My Doorbell," the third track on Get Behind Me Satan. This song perfectly captures the experience of wanting - desperately - for a love to return to the narrator's life. It is wrenching in its characterization of desperate desire. And Jack White sings it great. Even with the repetition of "I've been thinking about my doorbell, / When you gonna ring it? / When you gonna ring it? / When you gonna ring it?" this song holds up and emotes and captures exactly what it intends to.

The White Stripes do an excellent job of actually saying something on the majority of their songs on Get Behind Me Satan. "Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)" sings of loss and the feeling of betrayal that comes when a committed relationship ends, "Take, Take, Take" (despite its repetition) captures the inhumanity of fans, and the duo seems to have loneliness down perfectly with "My Doorbell" and "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)." And, as refreshing is it was on Elephant, the duo still clearly has a sense of humor and irony. The final track, "I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet)" is funny as it sings about desperation and the limits of it even for those who are seriously distressed.

Get Behind Me Satan is distinctly more diverse than Elephant and falls more toward pop than rock. Listeners are treated to an experience that is enjoyable to listen to and flows well from track to track, especially at the beginning. Those who do not like pop-rock or want distinctive singles are less likely to enjoy the album, which is arguably a stronger overall listening experience than Elephant.

The best track is the wrenching "My Doorbell," while the weakest track is likely the mopey "Instinct Blues."

For other, similar, works, check out my takes on:
Meet The Eels - Eels
Making Mirrors - Gotye
Approaching Normal - Blue October


For other music reviews, be sure to check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2005 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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