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By BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent
Published June 12, 2005

WHITE STRIPES, GET BEHIND ME SATAN (V2 RECORDS) Jack White, the singer and multi-instrumental virtuoso who leads the White Stripes, a duo that includes his ex-wife Meg on drums, excels at shaking things up. You think you know what to expect and then he up and marries British model Karen Elson in a canoe in the middle of the Amazon.

And that's just his personal life.

On Get Behind Me Satan, the Detroit duo's stellar new album, Jack and Meg White also shake up the musical primitivism that marked and defined their earlier records. Sure, the band's minimal approach is still intact; there is no bass to be found anywhere and Meg still pummels her drum kit with unwieldy (some would say, arrhythmic) abandon. She also, unfortunately, sings on Passive Manipulation, the album's nadir, albeit lasting only 35 seconds. But instead of the electric guitar-fueled blues riffs that dominated the band's previous recordings, Jack composed most of Satan's tunes on acoustic guitar, piano and even marimba. The new sonic ingredients add zest to tracks like the jerky marimba-flecked madness of The Nurse, a naughty tale of a dose of potentially lethal medicine. The more subdued sound offsets Jack's whistling howl of a voice. My Doorbell is an undeniable blast, funk-heavy and rooted in rolling piano.

This new musical direction complements the album's themes. White's songs brim with heartache and searching, and despite the more hushed settings, they still feel absolutely raw. Listen to Take, Take, Take, a cautionary tale about the dangers of absolute fandom. The song's staccato structure layers strummy acoustic guitar with Meg's incessant percussion, creating the equivalent of musical and emotional whiplash.

Rawer still is the swamp-flavored romp Little Ghost with its giddy fiddle arrangement. The album's closer and absolute standout track, I'm Lonely (But I Ain't That Lonely Yet), finds White snuggling up to a plangent piano-led melody. The song benefits from White's fragile croon, its quiet twang and White's indelible, and deliciously dark, sense of humor. Voice creaking in supposed torment, he sings, "I roll over in bed/ looking for someone to touch/ the girl that I know of but don't ask for much/ she's homely and she's cranky, and her hair's in a net/ and I'm lonely, but I ain't that lonely yet." It's a wonderful lyrical curve ball from a musician, and an album, that will invariably surprise and satisfy. A-

[Last modified June 9, 2005, 11:33:04]

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