Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 33: Icky Thump X

The 33rd set of exclusive vinyl items offered to Platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in September of 2017. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its Platinum members every three months.

The 33rd Vault package contained a colored vinyl pressing of the White Stripes’ 2007 album Icky Thump, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the release of the album which would turn out to be the duo’s studio swan song. Instead of a 7-inch single, the package contained two 12-inch records containing a passel of bonus tracks related to the album.

The tenth anniversary vinyl pressing of Icky Thump comes in the form of two discs pressed in stunning “contained explosion” colored vinyl. It’s a stereo mix (not to be confused with the mono version featured in the very first Vault package), remastered from the original 1-inch analog tapes and manufactured at the new Third Man Pressing plant in Detroit. The sound quality is top notch, with the duo’s small-scale Led Zeppelin ethos coming through very well on vinyl. This album was one of the more experimental ones in the White Stripes’ garage-blues-rock catalogue, beginning with the avant-garde title track, and later venturing through a Scottish-style folk ballad with bagpipes (“Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn”) and a Mexican-style mariachi romp with a trumpet (by way of a cover of Patti Page’s “Conquest”). Songs that are more reminiscent of the Stripes’ earlier garage rock (“You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “Little Cream Soda”, “I’m Slowly Turning Into You”) and old-fashioned blues (“300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues”, “Rag And Bone”, “Catch Hell Blues”) are given more technically sophisticated presentation here than on their earlier indie albums. Icky Thump was not intended to be the final White Stripes album, but in retrospect, one might think that the duo quit while they were ahead.

The Red Demos LP, pressed in black vinyl, contains the demos of ten of the album’s songs, recorded in January 2007. (The major-label-released Icky Thump reportedly was the only album that the duo ever demoed before the studio recordings). “Conquest” and “Icky Thump” are really the only tracks that have a work-in-progress feel (and you won’t hear trumpets or bagpipes on either). Four other tracks – “You Don’t Know What Love Is”, “A Martyr For My Love For You”, “Prickly Thorn”, and “300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” – are nearly the equals of their finished versions. “Bone Broke” also takes on a life of its own here, sounding as if it could have been a demo for the Raconteurs. But the instrumental tracks are what make the Red Demos LP special. Listening to “Rag And Bone”, “Catch Hell Blues” (both versions), and the previously unreleased “Monkeys Have It Easy” is like eavesdropping on early Led Zeppelin – or perhaps another ‘60’s British blues rock band – jamming their hearts out in a private garage. The “Little Cream Soda” demo is another dizzyingly intense instrumental, one that I wouldn’t compare to anyone else but the White Stripes. Red hot!

The Icky Thump Extras LP, pressed in “luminescent lunar-colored” (white) vinyl, contains another enjoyable assortment of muddy recordings by the duo from the album's time period, all of which originally appeared as B-sides and digital bonus tracks. The two sides are labeled as Side 2 and Side B. Side 2 is the noisy rock side, with the Stripes’ garage rock ethos on bold display. The first two tracks were bonus tracks on the iTunes version of Icky Thump. The live rendition of Hank Williams’ “Tennessee Border” has a Neil Young and Crazy Horse kind of recklessness; another ‘50’s cover, Bill Carter’s “Baby Brother”, is an equally raucous garage-rockabilly rumpus. The other two tracks were B-sides on the CD-single for “You Don’t Know What Love Is”. The “frat rock” version of that song sounds like exactly that, a loose and informal rendition recorded on a horse-racing track in Canada, dominated by loud and fuzzy organ and guitar. The acoustic version of “A Martyr For My Love For You” has a casual live-in-the-studio type of sound. Side B collects (mostly) lower-volume lo-fi diversions, under-produced by Beck; these tracks originally appeared as B-sides on various “Conquest” singles. These include two humorous satirical songs about fame and privacy (“It’s My Fault For Being Famous”) and social status (“Honey, We Can’t Afford To Look This Cheap”). “Cash Grab Complications On The Matter” is mostly piano-based, but is punctuated by bursts of nasty electric noise. The side ends with two alternate versions of "Conquest": an earthy “acoustic mariachi version” played with traditional mariachi string instruments and trumpet, as well as a full-bodied version sung in Spanish. If the album version of the song sounds perfect for a Tarantino film, these two versions would both be suitable for a film by Robert Rodriguez. You won’t find much coherency or professional sound quality on Icky Thump Extras, just loads of rowdy, unpolished fun.

The accompanying book Pictures From Icky features a series of Polaroids taken during the album’s recording and practice sessions by Whirlwind Heat singer David Swanson, as well as pictures of pages from a yellow legal pad in which Swanson scrawled notes about the recording sessions at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. There is nothing surprising here, but it is mildly amusing to see mistakes Swanson made in his note taking (he spelled the album title “Ecky Thump”), pictures of the lab coat Swanson wore in the studio, and references to a song called “Over and Over and Over” that the Whites decided not to record for the album – but Jack eventually recorded it for his 2018 solo album Boarding House Reach.

The other bonus item in the package is an enamel pin set depicting the horse skeleton imagery from the “Rag and Bone” single’s cover art. The entire set is packaged in a roomy box with a cover image of the cross of St. Andrew. One technical flaw: the center holes in the Icky Thump Extras and Red Demos LP's are cut too small, and they make it difficult to put the discs on the turntable, as well as to remove them.

Besides marking the 10th anniversary of the Icky Thump album release, this package also reminds me of the very first Vault package from eight years ago, which also was Icky Thump-related. Back in 2009, the Vault certainly seemed like a bold experiment in the early days of the vinyl resurgence. As I recall, the original Third Man Vault FAQ jokingly stated that “the whole thing might blow up in our faces”. Well, it certainly didn’t. It’s quite remarkable how well the Third Man Vault has progressed, and it’s still a thrill to be a part of its membership, as if it’s still a revolutionary new thing. Here’s hoping for many more years of exciting quarterly Vault packages.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The Icky Thump stereo double LP has “Clicky Bump”, “Monkeys Have It Easy”, “Catch Ya Later”, and “Faygo Crème Soda” carved in its respective sides. The Icky Thump Extras LP has “You want four piece or five piece?” carved in Side B, and “writing credit restored” carved in Side 2. The Red Demos LP has “hold out for possible thermonuclear counter-thrust” carved in Side X, and “Over and Over Ray Bans” carved in Side XX.

The White Stripes Present “Icky Thump X” (Third Man TMR Vault XXXIII) 2017

The White Stripes “Icky Thump” (Stereo) (Third Man TMR-500) 2017

Track Listing:


1. Icky Thump
2. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)
3. 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues


4. Conquest
5. Bone Broke
6. Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn
7. St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air)


8. Little Cream Soda
9. Rag And Bone
10. I’m Slowly Turning Into You


11. A Martyr For My Love For You
12. Catch Hell Blues
13. Effect And Cause

The White Stripes “The Red Demos” (Third Man TMR 498) 2017

Track Listing:

Side X

1. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)
2. A Martyr For My Love For You
3. Rag and Bone
4. Catch Hell Blues
5. Little Cream Soda
6. Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn

Side XX

7. Monkeys Have It Easy (previously unreleased)
8. Bone Broke
9. Icky Thump
10. Catch Hell Blues (reprise)
11. Conquest
12. 300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues

The White Stripes “Icky Thump Extras” (Third Man TMR-499) 2017

Track Listing:

Side 2

1. Tennessee Border (live)
2. Baby Brother
3. You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told) (frat rock version)
4. A Martyr For My Love For You (acoustic version)

Side B

5. It’s My Fault For Being Famous
6. Cash Grab Complications On The Matter
7. Honey, We Can’t Afford To Look This Cheap
8. Conquest (acoustic mariachi version)
9. Conquista (Spanish language version)

Bonus book (Third Man Books TMB021):

Swanson, David James. Pictures From Icky. Nashville: Third Man Books, 2017.

Reviews of other Third Man Vault packages