Sunday, June 24, 2007

Jack White, Weirdo

I’ve had the White Stripes’ new disc Icky Thump for just a couple of days now, and haven’t digested it, but I’ve already developed a strange obsession with the band’s version of “Conquest,” a hit for Patti Page in the 1950s. A Sketches of Spain meets Rocket to Russia assault on the senses, it’s delightfully and relentlessly weird, one of the strangest things any major band has done in ages. Simultaneously jokey and deathly serious, it finds Jack White striking a faux-operatic vocal pose while shredding on his guitar, doing battle with mariachi trumpets, and sounding shockingly trumpet-like in the process. Meg is in similarly fine fettle, leaning into the kit and pile driving through her own limitations. I don’t care if she has a nebulous sense of time, I could listen to her play the phone book. That woman is rock and roll to the bone, and to see her play live – the way she moves her hips while she works the kick drum; well, it does something to me.

Jack’s weirdness is why I think I’m going to like this disc a lot. His working vacation with the Raconteurs was such a snooze because it was so conventional. If you’re going to listen to Jack White, you don’t want the pill that makes him small. You want him to be JACK FREAKIN’ WHITE, rock star, herald of the apocalypse, writer of sea shanties, nursery rhymes and post-metal scuzz-blues standards. “Conquest” finds him on the fringe where he belongs.

Speaking of iconoclastic rockers, Jarvis Cocker, the man behind Pulp, has his first solo effort in stores now, and it’s a kick in the pants. In a just world, at least three tracks – “Don’t Let Him Waste Your Time,” “Fat Children” and “Black Magic,” which features a massive sample from Tommy James and the Shondells' “Crimson and Clover” – would be blasting out of radios all summer long. Infectious, wry and smart.

And finally, I just played XTC’s Skylarking for the first time in ages. Twenty-one years old and sounds as good as the day it was released. Rhetorical question of the day: How great is “Ballet for a Rainy Day”?

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