According to Jack White, Get Behind Me Satan deals with "characters and the ideal of truth," but in truth, the album is just as much about what people expect from the White Stripes and what they themselves want to deliver. Advance publicity for the album stated that it was written on piano, marimba, and acoustic guitar, suggesting that it was going to be a quiet retreat to the band's little room after the big sound, and bigger success, of Elephant. Then "Blue Orchid," Get Behind Me Satan's lead single, arrived. A devilish slice of disco-metal with heavily processed, nearly robotic riffs, the song was thrilling, but also oddly perfunctory; it felt almost like a caricature of their stripped-down but hard-hitting rock. As the opening track for Get Behind Me Satan, "Blue Orchid" is more than a little perverse, as though the White Stripes are giving their audience the required rock single before getting back to that little room, locking the door behind them, and doing whatever the hell they want. Even Jack White's work on the Cold Mountain soundtrack and Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose isn't adequate preparation for how far-flung this album is: Get Behind Me Satan is a weird, compelling collection that touches on several albums' worth of sounds, and its first four songs are so different from most of the White Stripes' previous music -- as well as from each other -- that, at first, they're downright disorienting. As if the red herring that is "Blue Orchid" isn't enough warning that Get Behind Me Satan is designed to defy expectations, "The Nurse"'s ironically perky marimbas and off-kilter stabs of drums and guitar -- not to mention lyrics like "the nurse should not be the one who puts salt in your wounds" -- make its domestic skulduggery one of the most perplexing and eerie songs the White Stripes have ever recorded (although Meg's brief cameo, "Passive Manipulation," which boasts the refrain "you need to know the difference between a father and a lover," rivals it). "My Doorbell," on the other hand, is almost ridiculously immediate and catchy, and with its skipping beat and brightly bashed pianos, surprisingly funky. Meanwhile, "Forever for Her (Is Over for Me)" turns cleverly structured wordplay and those fluttering marimbas into a summery, affecting ballad.
But despite Get Behind Me Satan's hairpin turns, its inspired imagery and complicated feelings about love hold it together. Though "the ideal of truth" sounds cut-and-dried, the album is filled with ambiguities; even its title, which shortens the biblical phrase "get thee behind me Satan," has a murky meaning -- is it support, or deliverance, from Lucifer that the Stripes are asking for? There are pleading rockers, like the alternately begging and accusatory "Red Rain," and defiant ballads, like "I'm Lonely (But I'm Not That Lonely Yet)," which has a stubborn undercurrent despite its archetypal, tear-in-my-beer country melody. Even Get Behind Me Satan's happiest-sounding song, the joyfully backwoods "Little Ghost," is haunted by loving someone who might not have been there in the first place. The ghostly presence of Rita Hayworth also plays a significant part on the album, on "White Moon" and the excellent "Take, Take, Take," a sharply drawn vignette about greed and celebrity: over the course of the song, the main character goes from just being happy to hanging out with his friends in a seedy bar to demanding a lock of hair from the screen siren. As eclectic as Get Behind Me Satan is, it isn't perfect: the energy dips a little in the middle, and it's notable that "Instinct Blues," one of the more traditionally Stripes-sounding songs, is also one of the least engaging. Though Jack and Meg still find fresh, arty reinterpretations of their classic inspirations, this time the results are exciting in a different way than their usual fare; and while the album was made in just two weeks, it takes awhile to unravel and appreciate. Get Behind Me Satan may confuse and even push away some White Stripes fans, but the more the band pushes itself, the better.
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