Today I’m reviewing two new albums that could not be more different – The White Stripes’ Icky Thump and Tomahawk’s Anonymous. Well, they are alike in one key respect: they are both the end-result of artists who clearly care about their craft and go to great lengths to create music that will be anything but disposable.
First to the White Stripes. If I had to guess, I’d say Jack White was revitalized by his work with The Raconteurs. While the Stripes’ last effort, Get Behind Me Satan, had some inspired moments, it was a bit dense and labored overall. Icky Thump, while certainly ambitious in parts, heralds the return of the loose and fun atmosphere evident on the band’s early albums.
Somehow Jack White pulls off the feat of delivering an album that feels more expertly produced and polished that previous outings, and yet manages to stay true to the DIY spirit that won the band so much acclaim in the first place.
Highlights? Oh, plenty! There is of course the exhilaratingly weird and aggressive title track and lead single, but also the flamenco metal of “Conquest” (which sounds like it could be part of Man of La Mancha were it produced on the Bizarro world), the high octane rock of “Bone Broke,” the charming Scottish folk of “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn” and its sister track “St. Andrew This Battle Is in the Air,” the ominous stream-of-consciousness rant “Little Cream Soda,” and the sublimely humorous “Rag and Bone,” pitting Jack and Meg in the role of junk collectors and highlighting the unique interplay between the two.
Icky Thump loses some steam on the back end, but I can see myself getting into them when in the right mood. “Catch Hell Blues” is the best track of the last batch of songs, featuring some tasty blues slide riffs from Jack. “Effect and Cause” closes the album out on a fun note (well, many fun notes actually), and shows how Jack White is just as comfortable with a carefree acoustic stomp as he is with an electric rocker.
On the whole, Icky Thump is a highly enjoyable album, and another notch in the belt of Jack White – probably the only true rock star walking the earth today.
That brings us to Anonymous, the third album from Tomahawk, one of former Faith No More and Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton’s many side projects. Patton, who has dabbled in just about every musical form imaginable, tackles traditional Native American arrangements this time. The story goes that this music was written down around the early 20th century, and was an attempt to preserve the original forms. Even with that in mind, there’s no accurate way to describe this album, but I guess you could call it Tribal New Age Metal.
Your enjoyment of this album will be totally predicated on your expectations. If you are expecting something like Faith No More, don’t bother listening. This album is like nothing you’ve heard before, although if you’ve followed Patton’s post-Bungle career it should not come as a total shock. These songs are structured, and yet free-form at the same time. There are precious few lyrics, but ample doses of Patton’s elastic vocal stylings.
I’m not so much of a Mike Patton fan that I’m willing to overlook many of his obvious creative missteps, but I have to admit Anonymous grabbed me right away. Sure, I won’t be throwing this in the CD player on a ride to the beach, but that’s not really what this album is for anyway. Although Tomahawk’s arrangements on Anonymous would not have been played circa the late 1800s, it seems to my uneducated ears that the essence of the original music has been respectfully preserved.
There would be no point in analyzing individual tracks, for this is a rare modern album that really needs to be digested as a whole. While I can’t promise you’ll take to it like I have, I do promise it will be unlike anything you’ve heard before.