The White Stripes Icky Thump (Warner Bros.)

I'd like to give Icky Thump a free pass based on the euphoria inspired by its ball-busting title track, but the fact of the matter is this record is nothing special. It all sounds nice on first listen, like something that might reward dedicated listening over time, but calling this a great White Stripes album is selling their best work short. Go back and listen to De Stijl and White Blood Cells and remember how "Hello Operator" and "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" oozed threadbare rock power. Recall the engaging, morbid storytelling of "Death Letter" and the endearing childhood revivalism of "We're Going to Be Friends." Even "Icky Thump," with its terrifying plod and groovy riff, can't compete with that stuff; it wears thin after a few listens.

Then there's the matter of a dozen other songs to process. All of them offer some degree of satisfaction, but none of them ought to go down as modern classics or anything. The Whites penned two catchy rockers in "I'm Slowly Turning Into You" and "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)," but neither one rises above passable. The banter on "Rag and Bone" is decent fun, even spread over a pretty pedestrian romp and stomp. The Wonderland-traipsing "St. Andrew" is like a more enjoyable, more Scottish rendition of Radiohead's "Pull/Pulk Revolving Doors," but that's like the worst Radiohead song ever. The band does best when it's throttling its intruments with abandon, as on "Bone Broke" and "Little Cream Soda."

Perhaps I'm being too hard on the White Stripes, but I know they can do better. If you like the band, you'll probably like this album, especially if you were put off by the marimba-happy Get Behind Me Satan. It just seems to me as if Jack and Meg knew a return from last album's offbeat detour would earn them hosannas as long as it remotely rocked. They spent more time than ever recording this album—a whopping three weeks—so it's hard to call this half-baked. And the duo seems fully invested in these tunes, so it's hard to call Icky Thump half-hearted. But something's missing.

Grade: B- Download: "Icky Thump," "Little Cream Soda" Web: whitestripes.com