The White Stripes achieved broader success with Elephant, specifically through its lead single “Seven Nation Army,” which has been played at every single sporting event since its release in 2003. I had snatched up both Elephant and its predecessor, White Blood Cells (2001), and enjoyed both immensely, so I was very much looking forward to what could be their latest and greatest. In fact, I can still remember finishing up my last exam my junior year of high school and stopping at Best Buy on the way home to buy Get Behind Me Satan on CD. Yet I have no memory of listening to that CD, which definitely threw me for a loop for a little while when I started composing this entry. But after searching my memory bank I realized that I had bought my very first iPod a few weeks before purchasing Get Behind Me Satan, so I never really listened to the CD itself. (Not the last time that would happen.)
But still my memory of hearing the album itself that summer is pretty hazy, as it failed to leave much of an impression, really. I remember liking it but thinking it fell short of Elephant‘s greatness. Whereas White Blood Cells and Elephant were unified in their guitar/drums/vocals aesthetic, Get Behind Me Satan introduced pianos and marimbas into the mix, which might have provided needed textural variation but ultimately failed to significantly deepen the White Stripes’ sound. I think I may have initially wrote off Get Behind Me Satan as a disappointment because even though the Stripes’ color palette had broadened, they were still painting with the same brush, which wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted them to push out and extend from the sizable progress they had made on Elephant, and I suppose it’s to their credit that they didn’t do what I was expecting.
It took me several years to truly appreciate that Get Behind Me Satan is one hell of an album. Its meandering focus kept it from being hailed as a classic upon its release, but I think it has some of the White Stripes’ best work. About the only thing I do remember from listening to Get Behind Me Satan in the summer of ’05 is that the track “The Denial Twist” really stood out to me, and it’s still probably my favorite White Stripes song. (In fact, I was quite angry when I first heard the song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant a few years ago. It’s a complete ripoff of “The Denial Twist” and just a flat out terrible song. It has a chorus that begins with “Ain’t no rest for the wicked/Money don’t grow on trees” for crying out loud.)
“Red Rain” quickly became a favorite of mine, as well. It’s clearly heavily inspired by Led Zeppelin’s slide guitar epic “In My Time of Dying” from their classic album Physical Graffiti (1975), and Jack White manages to create an absolute fireball of energy Jimmy Page would no doubt be proud of. By the time the next track — the closer “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)” — rolls around, the different strands of Get Behind Me Satan weave together at last, and you realize “The Denial Twist” and “Passive Manipulation” are positioned where they are for a similar purpose.