Meg: "Your voice sounds really high on this record, like the old days."
Jack: "I noticed that too."
So goes part of the Detroit duo's conversation in the little bio that accompanies the press mailing of Get Behind Me Satan, easily the White Stripes' most modest album since the aforementioned old days, yet also the biggest media sensation in rock this year. The hype was partly set in motion by Jack and Meg White's previous discs, unprecedented neoprimitive rock albums that found a lost intersection where blues, country, garage rock, and every other Anglo-American folkway met pop's road to riches, right before the devil's tollbooth. But the hype was due partly to Jack and Meg's decision to run from the devil, instead of pay him or slay him. This largely acoustic piano-based set may sound more like Zeppelin than ever (thanks to Jack's really high voice), but it feels more like Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska -- the last major about-face into small-scale folk from a larger-than-life rock act.
Both discs feature dark and well-written songs that consistently repay concentration, but rarely demand it. Instead, they risk sinking into their confined murkiness by largely forgoing an essential element of pop -- a good beat. Naysayers have blamed Meg's drumming for this shortcoming, but Get Behind Me Satan -- a disc shot through with romantic disillusionment -- could be Jack's declaration of recommitment to his ex-wife's modest talents. And who knows? The duo's stage shows have always been powered by the electric tension between Jack's manic energy and Meg's stalwart passivity, and this recommitment might even turn up that power to 11.
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