Now there's a reason it's taken me longer than I might have hoped to actually sit down to write this review. Besides the normal too-busy excuses I could likely be expected to offer, I've truly been trying to give the disc its fair share of spins. With any album, ideally the open-minded reviewer should endeavor to allow time for the work's full genius to seep through the subconscious. Yeah, and also this LP didn't exactly knock me flat when I first gave it a listen, so I wanted to give Meg 'n' Jack the full benefit of the doubt in case my ears were deceiving me.[here commenceth review proper]
Although I haven't yet had the chance to digitize the duo's previous records (disclosure: though I've heard selections from their self-titled debut and White Blood Cells
, I only own De Stijl
, so maybe I don't quite qualify as a White Stripes fanatic, as if I care), whenever I've played them I mentally make little mental iTunes playlists of the songs on each CD: "good White Stripes tunes" and "bad, well, less-good White Stripes tunes." More often than not, there's been a very strong correlation between what I delineate as "good" and those which, for lack of a better term, rock out. Again, not that the acoustic numbers have ever been truly bad, they've just lacked the vitality and spark of the bluesy, plugged-in rock made famous in the red-and-black clad band's commercial singles.
This sonic bipolarity I've heard in past records, which I'm ashamed to admit makes me sound like some knuckledragging musical troglodyte, is reflected regrettably all the more in Satan
: this is weirder, rangier material than they've attempted in the past, almost all of it acoustic. By my count, only four of the songs here include samplings of Jack's big bad axe: album opener and lead single "Blue Orchid," an buzzed-out American Gothic pop song that ranks with some of their minor, if enjoyable efforts, "The Nurse," track two, chock full of marimba and tinged with some odd zaps of guitar + cymbal in a bizarre crunch effect (which ends just as it starts to get interesting), the generically and suitably titled "Instinct Blues," and the album's penultimate cut, "Red Rain," which tries hard to be hard. There are almost as many songs on here that mention Rita Hayworth
, whatever that's all about.
Taken as a whole, there are subtle pleasures to be found on this, the Stripes' fifth full-length, mostly in the punchy, piano-based "My Doorbell" and "Take, Take, Take," which take their cues from the upbeat "Motown" soul music of thirty-odd years past. In fact, the presence of these types of tracks, and the rootsy "As Ugly As I Seem" and "Little Ghost," seems to beg comparison to an unexpected source of inspiration: The Beach Boys' Wild Honey
album. Listen to a few tracks on that record (suggestions: "Aren't You Glad," "Let the Wind Blow"), and then come back and tell me that Jack and Meg shouldn't have added a little bit of production punch to the mix on their latest album, not to mention some melody and some... energy, to quite a few of these rather limp pieces. So much of the album's potential is wasted on a boring, pretentious, "no-computer-for-me" lo-fi aesthetic, which serves only to frustrate the listener, rather than enhance the experience. But worst of all, much of Satan
betrays an inability of the songwriter to distinguish between mere childishness and a childlike simplicity, which means that a disapointing number of this record's offerings ("Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)" and album closer "I'm Lonely, But I Ain't That Lonely Yet", I'm looking especially at you) will end up in the pile of "less-good White Stripes tunes."
I give it**1/2
out of four.
I welcome your comments.