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White Stripes change their spots on difficult 'Satan'

The White Stripes didn't just spur the garage-rock revival of recent years -- they made it a bona fide movement. The primal two-member Detroit band -- starring singer-creator Jack White and drummer/ex-wife Meg White -- crashed onto rock radio with the 2003 album, ''Elephant," which sold 4 million copies. It was sparked by the hit single ''Seven Nation Army," which boomed out of loudspeakers for months.

The new Stripes album, however, ''Get Behind Me Satan," is not going to be an easy sell. Call it their antifame record. It's less garage-rock than garage-cabaret, as Jack White moves from artist to artiste with some baffling -- though daringly experimental -- songs driven mostly by piano, marimba, and acoustic guitar, not the electric ax for which he's known.

At first listen, one wonders what kind of cocktail Jack's been drinking. Or did the breakup with actress Renee Zellweger (now married to Kenny Chesney) take too much out of him? There are some moments of absolute silliness, such as the tinny toy piano melody annoyingly matched with blues slide guitar in ''Red Rain," or the flowery, Liberace-like piano notes in a couple of other tracks. And then there's the elliptical ballad, ''White Moon," with the hopelessly indulgent lyric: ''The word is the bird that flew through the herd in the snow."

Say what?

Repeated listens, though, help the music sink in -- and ultimately the verdict is thumbs up rather than down, but you have to work hard to get there. The album jumps out of the box with the new single, ''Blue Orchid" (which sounds like an attempt at early, Prince-style funk-rock). But hints of over-experimentation then come through in ''The Nurse." The marimba-based song plays like dark theater, as Jack notes a betrayal of trust in the verse, ''The nurse should not be the one who puts salt in your wounds," augmented by bizarre cymbal crashes from Meg that feel mechanical.

Still, there are some great songs sprinkled throughout -- from the simple pop of ''My Doorbell" (with a high-voiced Jack wondering when a love interest is going to ring it) to the old-timey ''Little Ghost," which could fit onto the ''Cold Mountain" soundtrack that Jack worked on. There's also the Beatlesesque melody of the acoustic ''As Ugly as I Seem," the anticelebrity commentary of ''Take, Take, Take" (where Jack imagines a fan bugging actress Rita Hayworth in a bar), and the Led Zeppelin-like ''Instinct Blues," in which his electric guitar is finally at full volume.

There's much to admire, but the album suggests the White Stripes are definitely in transition. Those fans who want to cling to Jack White as a guitar hero are going to be underwhelmed by parts of this record. It's also apparent that he is getting a little full of himself in both lyrics and arrangements. But overall, he's still writing music that demands attention, even if it's unlikely to sell 4 million copies this time.

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