The White Stripes' sixth album takes a few new directions while blasting their trademark grungy blues. All of the elements that make the duo so intruiging are on Icky Thump: guitar virtuosity, pounding rhythms, Jack's howling vocals, and mysteriously narrative lyrics. On the album, they explore bigger, more eccentric sounds, and mostly succeed.
Icky Thump doesn't have much of a theme other than that of experimentation. The diversity of the distortion ranges from the party rock of the opening title track to sinister lounging, Old World jiggery, and play acting. "Icky Thump" kicks the album off with Jack screeching over a low-key blues line then crashes into a short-stepped riff while featuring a high-pitched guitar siren. The next track, "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You're Told)", is an even catchier blues stomp. After mellowing out acoustically with "300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues", Icky Thump rolls into one of the more singular songs on the album.
"Conquest", a cover, starts with a fanfare, then gets a low-end guitar grind and bass drum rhythm. Jack somersaults through the verses with cautionary tale vocals, interspersed by more fanfare, shouting and a ring-of-hell type of refrain. A couple tracks later, on "Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn", the band evolves into a bright, acoustic, pattering Celtic jam that sounds both authentic and modern. Evolving even further into bizarre territory, Meg provides vocals for "St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)", which is a swirling, psych-bagpipe jog. She almost sounds possessed throughout it. "Little Cream Soda" is an erratic, temperamental spray of "oh well". One of the more charming songs, "Rag & Bone" depicts Jack & Meg going to houses looking for musical antiques. The last few tracks of Icky Thump are also grunge-heavy, but all possess a sleek catchiness, especially the acoustic, rolling "Effect & Cause".
With all that's going on in the Stripes' world, it's not surprising that Icky Thump is eccentric and fast-paced. It further evolves their alternablues rock in a few directions, and while keeping the knob at 11. It's funny, cool, edgy, and satisfies everything we've been led to expect from the two.