Album Review: The White Stripes, “Get Behind Me Satan” (2005)

The White Stripes have definitely gained a lot of attention in the past years. The rock duo (composed of guitarist/pianist/songwriter/lead vocalist, Jack White and ex-wife/drummer Meg White) has seen numerous hit songs (Fell In Love With A Girl, Seven Nation Army, The Hardest Button to Button, just to name a few), chart-topping albums, and a ton of critical acclaim, yet I’ve only recently jumped on the White Stripes train.

Get Behind Me Satan is the first White Stripes album I’ve purchased, but it certainly won’t be the last. Comprised of extremely clever and well-written songs, catchy hooks that you’ll have trouble forgetting, the vocal (and other) talents of Jack White, and Meg White’s quiet charm, the Stripes’ fifth album is a pure delight which I just can’t stop listening to.

The disc begins with Blue Orchid, which was also the lead single. The throbbing base line, riff-driven chorus, persistent drumming and the addition of Jack singing in falsetto give the song a great old school rock vibe. Next up is one of my favorite tracks on the album, The Nurse. The song begins with the xylophone, of all instruments, but the addition of it and maracas give the song a sort of carefree/island feeling. Though the melody is definitely memorable, it’s the lyrics that add the real depth to the song (“The nurse should not be the one who puts salt in your wounds/But it’s always with trust that the poison is fed with a spoon/When you’re helpless with no one to turn to alone in your room”). Though most of the track is pretty subdued, Meg goes a bit crazy on the drums before the choruses, adding some fun to the song.

My Doorbell was another single released from the album, and it’s pretty easy to see why. The song has a strange 70’s funk/soul sound to it that sounds surprisingly good, and the Stripes definitely get credit for experimentation. Jack returns to his falsetto, and sings with a sort of swagger reminiscent to some of the old funk legends. The simplistic melody and catchy chorus (“I’m thinkin’ about my doorbell/When ya gonna ring it, when ya gonna ring it”) make a perfect combination, and the song even went on to win the band a Grammy in 2006.

The streak of perfection continues with Forever For Her (Is Over For Me) a mid-tempo rock song that actually sounds like it could’ve been released in the “classic rock” era. The maracas and the xylophone return, though this time they’re paired with the acoustic guitar and more drumming, which makes for a simple, albeit addicting, melody. Jack’s vocals are again highlighted, especially as he wails his way through the chorus in a way that makes you want to sing along. The fun lyrics (“Well, everybody’s reaction is changing you/But their love is only a fraction of what I can give to you/Well, let’s do it, let’s get on a plane and just do it/Like the birds and the bees and get to it/Just get out of town and forever be free”) add to the song’s charm, and the track is another one of my favorites.

The Denial Twist is an undeniably catchy rock song, in which the highlight is definitely Meg’s drumming. Though her technique has been criticized for being simplistic, Meg is certainly a great drummer, and hardly any of the band’s songs would be as good or memorable without Meg. Anyway, the track contains more well written lyrics (“If you think that a kiss is all in the lips/C’mon, you got it all wrong, man/And if you think that our dance was all in the hips/Oh well, then do the twist”), and the song is another that you’ll have trouble forgetting. Jack summons his inner Jimi Hendrix during Instinct Blues. The electric guitar is the star of this song, and the riffs are some of the best on the entire album. Jack sings like a true rocker during the silly lyrics (“‘Cause every worm that’s under your shoe/And every bird and bee in the jungle, too/And everything in the ocean blue/They just happen to know exactly what to do/So why don’t you?”), and you can almost envision him throwing his guitar into some amps during the end of the song (or something like that).

The Stripes change the pace a bit during Passive Manipulation a 35-second intro of sorts, in which Meg plays the triangle and sings. Meg’s voice certainly isn’t anything amazing, though it seems that she’s just not used to being the lead singer. Still, her vocals are a sweet and refreshing break from Jack’s (though he does have a great voice, he can become a bit tiring to listen to after a while), and the lyrics are well worth pondering (“Women, listen to your mothers/Don’t just succumb to the wishes of your brothers/Take a step back/Take a look at one another/You need to know the difference/Between a father and a lover”). The tempo picks right back up with Take, Take, Take another old-sounding rocker, in which Jack comments on celebrity, fans, and fame by telling a fictional story of meeting legendary actress Rita Hayworth (“Then I said, ‘I hate to bug you, ma’am, but/Can I have your autograph?’/And that was all that I needed/She pressed her lips against a white piece of paper/And that was all that I needed/Then I saw what she wrote, ‘My heart is in my mouth’/And that was all that I needed/Then she handed it to me, and I think that she could see/That that was all that I needed”). The lyrics might cause you to smirk a bit, but again the drums and guitar are really what make the song such a delight.

As Ugly As I Seem is a slow paced song, with a highly forgettable tune. Jack’s dreary vocals definitely don’t cause the song to stand out, but the tongue-in-cheek lyrics more than make up for the track’s flaws (“I am as ugly as I seem/Worse than all your dreams/Could ever make me out to be/And it makes me want to scream/When it’s Halloween/And the kids are laughing/The rogue is a bank he’s never broke/But worth as much as a joke that no one is laughing at”). Similarly, Red Rain comes off as nothing more than a knockoff of Instinct Blues, and while lacking the appeal of its predecessor, isn’t actually a badsong by any means. Some of the great lyrics during the bridge make the song worth listening to (“If there is a lie, then there is a liar, too/And if there is a sin, then there is a sinner, too”), but just don’t turn to this track when you have a headache- the loud drumming and guitar will definitely push you into migraine territory.

A few songs on the album, however, are definitely weak. Little Ghost borrows from Appalachian/country influence, and may possibly be the most annoying song I’ve ever heard. On some days, Jack’s twangy vocals and guitar work make me want to claw my own eyes out, but the worst part about the song is that it’s still not quite offending enough for me to truly hate it. I can’t really explain the sort of love/strong dislike relationship that I have with this track; but despite my supposed hatred for the song, I never skip it while listening to the rest of the album. White Moon is almost the same song, but without the campy country sound, and the result is a dull track in which Jack again mentions Rita Hayworth (I’m sensing an obsession here).

And on a side, and completely unrelated note, does anyone else find Jack White to be strangely sexy? I think I’m developing a crush on him, and I can’t really understand why. He’s not handsome by any conventional standards, yet I still find myself oddly attracted to him. I think I find him sexy in an Edward Scissorhand’s kind of way, which is understandable, right? Maybe I’m just weird.

Moving on. The album ends with I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet) a slow-paced balled that I’m not quite sure what to think of. I’ve wavered between loving the song and not really caring, and at this point in time, I’m back to not really caring. Though the lyrics are great (“Well I miss my mother/And I miss being her son/As crazy as I was I/Guess I wasn’t much of one/Sometimes I miss her so much/I want to hop on the next jet/And I get lonely, but I ain’t that lonely yet/…Are you my friend when I need one/I need someone to be one/I take anybody I can get/And sometimes I wanna call you/And I feel like a pest/And I’m lonely, but I ain’t that lonely yet”), the piano/drums/vocal composition lacks to hold my interest for very long. Either way, the album sadly ends on somewhat of a “blah” note.

As a whole Get Behind Me Satan is a fantastic album. Jack White adds to most of The White Stripes allure, with wonderfully written lyrics, great vocals and perfectly composed songs, though Meg Whiteis definitely responsible for a great deal of the band’s talent. Fans of the Stripes, rock music, or just good music in general will love this album, and if you haven’t got it yet, what are you waiting for?

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Blue Orchid
2. The Nurse
3. My Doorbell
4. Forever For Her (Is Over For Me)
5. Little Ghost
6. The Denial Twist
7. White Moon
8. Instinct Blues
9. Passive Manipulation
10. Take, Take, Take
11. As Ugly As I Seem
12. Red Rain
13. I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW8UlrtcEac]
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