Welcome to the second edition of Flashback Friday. Today we’re gonna take a little trip down memory lane to 2005, and The White Stripes’ fifth album Get Behind Me Satan .
The album has made headlines this week as we fast approach it’s tenth anniversary. Known for his love of all things vinyl, Jack White‘s Third Man Records have announced that for the first time ever, GBMS will be coming out in a special vinyl edition on Record Store Day (April 18). But lets take a moment to reflect on what is still one of the best rock albums of the 2000s.
Much like the majority of my music-loving comrades and football nuts all over the world, I got into The White Stripes via their 2003 album Elephant, and their unfathomably massive single Seven Nation Army. Luckily for me, I figured that with a song like that, there’s surely more good stuff under their belts, so I started delving into the full album, as well as their previous three. it wasn’t long before I was a fanatic.
The mysterious are-they-husband-and-wife-or-sister-brother duo, simply a drummer and guitarist who dressed like a strawberry swirl, and a knack for brash garage rock that not only made you want to jump up and down and break shit, but was actually really fucking good, had me hypnotised. It still does, every time.
Get Behind Me Satan then came out in 2005. It was a surprise for many – myself included. Giving way to the purity of blues-heavy guitar distortion and basic but demanding drums, we were suddenly thrown into a world of marimbas, acoustic guitars, pianos and *gasp* Meg White singing.
It wasn’t bad, not by a long shot, but it sure was a surprise at the time.
Structured to perfection, the album bounces up and down, with almost every heavy song followed by something softer.
GBMS opens with Blue Orchid, an instantly classic riff and the kind of falsetto that is so unique to Jack White’s voice. There’s a small selection of two-piece bands (DZ Deathrays, Royal Blood and Lightning Bolt come to mind) that always leave me with one question: How in hell can two people make THAT much noise?!
But from there, something changed. Enter The Nurse. Out of fucking nowhere, comes this lovely little marimba and incredibly sinister, Agatha Christie-style murder mystery lyrics. Then comes in that relentless distortion. Heavenly.
My favourite song on the record is probably The Denial Twist. Romping, stomping, raunchy blues, this was the perfect blend of ‘old’ and ‘new’ White Stripes, and the kind of garage blues we’re still seeing in Jack White’s solo stuff. This track makes me dance every time – and don’t worry, I know it’s not just about the hips.
There’s a lot of common motifs throughout the album. Sexual frustration runs on at least half the tracks. From unrequited love and devotion to a non-existent ghost on Little Ghost, to the birds and the bees of Forever For Her (Is Over For Me), it really makes you wonder what was going on in their personal lives at the time After all, the album came out around the same time as White’s marriage to his now-ex Karen Elson.
My Doorbell is definitely not actually about a doorbell, let’s just get that out of the way. Acoustic and piano-led Forever For Her (Is Over For Me,) delivers one of the most (unintentionally?) hilariously uplifting choruses on the album. “LET’S DO IT!” he yells. “LIKE THE BIRDS AND THE BEES, LET’S JUST DO IT!” Little Ghost is a funny one, too, but in a different way. Bluegrass-inspired twangs and Meg White’s harmonies (the most monotone harmony humanly possible,) I love the literal insanity. “Noone see this apparition, but because of my condition, I fell in love with a little ghost and that was all!”
Instinct Blues seriously (lyrically) reminds me of The Bloodhound Gang’s Bad Touch, there’s only a very thin veil shielding the angst in this one. “Well, the crickets get it, and the ants get it, I bet you the pigs get it, yeah, even the plants get it, come on now, and get with it, yeah, I want you to get with it.”
Musically, something I love about this album is how they contrast these gorgeous piano, acoustic guitars and marimbas with thrashing, distorted guitars. The Nurse, White Moon and Red Rain use that to full effect. At any point where you might have been thinking, “Hmm, is this going to be something soft or slow?” they suddenly inject pure rock and heavy fucking riffs. They’ve always championed the contrast between soft verses and massive choruses, shifting that difference to instrumental layers is just sublime.
White Moon is about as close to a ballad as a White Stripes track can get, and it still manages to make you jump. That contrast between the soft, echoed pianos and heavy distortion is beautiful. This is a seriously underrated track.
What else is there to love about this album? Well, there’s Passive Manipulation, the 35 second track featuring Meg White singing about women learning the difference between their father and lover. To this day I’m not exactly sure of the precise purpose or meaning. But I guess it’s cool anyway.
Take, Take, Take is one mean motherfucker of a song, a clear spat about fame and celebrity. We all know you’re not really talking about Rita Hayworth. As Ugly As I Seem is a funny little acoustic break-up track with a flowing acoustic melody and self-deprecating lyrics. The perfect down-tempo break before the Red Rain. Probably the most traditionally White Stripes track, I LOVE the Jimmy Page-esque twang of that riff.
We finally reach the end with I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet.) Reflective and emotional, with excellent piano work and endless nostalgia, it’s a perfect ending to such a diverse album.
Ten years on, this record has not aged one bit. It’s diverse and beautiful, intricate and interesting. The most ambitious White Stripes album they ever recorded, it showed off a whole myriad new musical roads that they were exploring. And they did it really, really well.
Anyway. On April 18 (Record Store Day), if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to snatch a limited edition multi-coloured vinyl version. A standard black edition will be released later in the year. Disc one of the special edition double LP is pressed on red vinyl, and disc two is white. It also comes with a full sized 12″ jacket, new artwork and a digital download code.
Here’s a trailer for the release: