Un-sticky ‘Icky’ Ooohhwweee!

Ever-arch-exes Jack and Meg White went through their garage and found they had a lot of neglected instruments stored under a tarpaulin. They dusted them, polished them and played them – beautifully

Haily Gostas

The White Stripes have always walked a thin tightrope between genius and compulsion, but it was only a matter of time before Jack and Meg fully outgrew the strict limitations they first started out with, among them the barebones pairing of guitar and drums, the white and red wardrobe and, yes, the speculated brother-sisterhood (jig’s up, guys – we know you’re exes).

The White Stripes

ALBUM: Icky Thump
LABEL: Warner Bros.

Recorded over a marathon period of three weeks, sixth outing “Icky Thump” pushes them even further into a territory thick with ambitious arrangements and smart self-awareness. And though 2005’s “Get Behind Me Satan” was a bold and bewildering stagger away from the basics, it sounded more like the bizarre product of personal aggravation than a prized experiment. Here, the duo recalls their unfailingly natural dynamic with a record that’s equal parts aggressive edge, downhearted blues and weird sideshow fun.

The band seems comfortable with their newfound sound chemistry, seamlessly blending everything from spindly Wurlitzer riffs, mariachi-esque theatrics and their familiar guitar fuzz, allowing each of the album’s tracks a varying voice of its own. The deal is sealed come the outlaw-in-love western “Conquest” or “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn,” in which the Stripes join Scottish folk (bagpipes and all) with dreamy psychedelia. Toto, I don’t think we’re in the garage anymore.

Apparently not even unexpected bouts of fame, cross-continental touring or a decade (practically a lifetime) of music making, can spoil a taste for the unconventional.

Sure, very little of their early catalog is revisited, and even the best bits of “Icky Thump” often can’t touch past singles. (Those hoping for back-porch stompers like “Hotel Yorba” or the radio-friendly rock of “Fell In Love With A Girl” should pull out the old stuff.) But this is still a good example of the White Stripes’ awesome (not icky) powers, and some outside-the-box thinking done very right.