Jack White – Blunderbuss
Jack White – Blunderbuss
After the White Stripes went their separate ways, it was inevitable that everything Jack White did afterwards would take on new importance. Before, White’s side-projects like the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, along with his production work, were always seen as incidental to his main gig and, therefore, weren’t taken as seriously. But it doesn’t look like anybody told him that. Despite all the pre-release hype, it seems White didn’t take his solo debut, Blunderbuss, any more seriously than his other projects, in that it doesn’t sound like a major statement at all. (Indeed, the album started out as a friendly jam session when he and his backing band were waiting for the RZA to show up for a one-off single.)
Just like other singer/songwriters who step out to do solo work, White branches out here, trying things he wouldn’t be able to do in the confines of his former band. Ironically, since the White Stripes deliberately limited themselves, this solo outing sounds more like the work of a group, albeit one dominated by a singular voice. White plays a lot of instruments himself, like he always does, but he brings in guest vocalists and musicians, who give the songs a deeper, richer feel and help all the stylistic experiments gel. While White’s foot is still firmly planted in rock ‘n’ roll’s foundations, he takes advantage of all the opportunities afforded to him, making Blunderbuss gloriously messy. There aren’t any real out-and-out classics here, but it’s an astonishingly consistent set. “Freedom At 21” rattles on a tape-echo drum beat; steel guitar and strings soothe the anger bubbling beneath the title track; jazzy pianos sparkle throughout “Weep Themselves To Sleep;” shuffling country clashes with vaudeville on “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy;” and White remembers to slow it down for the lightly trippy, Beatlesque “On And On And On.” Even when the results are more expected, as on the thrashy “Sixteen Saltines” and the rollicking Little Willie John cover “I’m Shakin’,” he gives them a distinctive spin. (Plus, on “Shakin’,” who can resist his affected “I’m noivous!” line reading?)
What perhaps makes Blunderbuss most noticeably a solo album, though, is the tone of its lyrics. White has always cleverly played with the dynamics of relationships, but in the wake of his divorce, the words here are far more introspective, if not outright autobiographical. Tales of unshakable desire, power struggles and men and women who use and abuse each other run amok throughout, alternating between angry and somber. “When they tell you that they just can’t live without you/They ain’t lying; they’ll take pieces of you,” White laments on “Missing Pieces.” It’s the sort of soul-searching we rarely hear from the man, and if the wildly careening music unfortunately masks some of this emotion, it can be forgiven since this record isn’t meant to be simple blood-letting. Indeed, nothing on Blunderbuss approaches the gravitas of a “break-up album.” It’s purely an entertaining, unexpected romp from one of modern rock’s great living songwriters, a title that this album proves in spades.