Well of course this is my album of the week. Why wouldn’t it be? Jack White’s anticipated debut solo album Blunderbuss is as good as expected, even if it’s a significant leap stylistically from any of his previous projects (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather).
Jack White’s songwriting prowess, trademark singing style, and instrumental ability places him in a very small, elite tier of blues/rock musicians today that would probably include John Mayer, Dan Auerbach, Dave Grohl… and not many others. These are guys who could throw pretty much anything against the wall, with any group of musicians, and have it stick. I don’t know if it’s the “x-factor” or whatever you want to call it, but White has it.
The great thing about it is that it allows him to change things up a lot without any risk of it sucking. With the exception of “Sixteen Saltines,” little on Blunderbuss really sounds like any of his previous projects. At the same time, they’re all unmistakably stamped with The Jack White Sound, and they’re all really good.
We launch right into things with “Missing Pieces,” the cheeriest song about amputation ever. Okay, so it’s the metaphorical amputation of limbs that Jack is talking about, but it’s well molded to the blues formula of Singing Happily About the Gruesome Side Effects of Love. “They ain’t lyin’, they’ll take pieces of you,” he crows before launching into boisterous single “Sixteen Saltines,” which takes pages from all three of White’s previous groups. The music video draws some obvious “Lord of the Flies” similarities, and it’s good (if a little disturbing):
Blunderbuss‘ strongest song is the other single, “Love Interruption,” a stripped down number that perfectly fuses blues and folk to simple vocal harmonies and great lyrical hooks. The verses again revisit the “pains of love” theme, albeit with a more masochistic outlook; the choruses read like addenda to Mumford’s “Sigh No More” (think structurally as you listen: “Love, it will not betray you/dismay or enslave you/it will set you free” vs. “I wont let love disrupt, corrupt, or interrupt me”).
On other tracks, it’s strange to hear White make use of the piano to such a great degree (see the grandiose classical gestures on “Weep Themselves to Sleep”), although somehow it works perfectly. Again, just more proof that White can touch anything and turn it to gold. His experimentations sound effortless, and he knows exactly the right buttons to push. Looking at the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather discography, you could easily argue that White has never put out a bad album. And it’s not from playing it safe either; he’s undoubtedly changed things up along the way. “Trash Tongue Talker” invites The Rolling Stones circa late ’60s to come play with whatever is in Jack White’s brain, and it’s a fun bluesy romp that again goes heavy on the ivories. There are even some ragtime piano stylings introduced in the pun-titled “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”. The spirit of The Dead Weather kicks in about halfway through “Take Me With You When You Go,” as if White just couldn’t end the album without going nuts one more time. Because that’s what he’s good at, and a little Dead Weather never hurt anyone.
If you “get” Jack White, you’ll love Blunderbuss; and there’s no reason you shouldn’t. It’s fresh and completely effective. White milks some crazy sounds out of the unique arrangements from beginning to end, and at times it’s almost the sonic equivalent of a Dr. Seuss novel. Which is awesome, because haven’t you always wondered what the Seussaphone really sounds like?
It’s not just the musical quality of Blunderbuss that legitimizes it in album-of-the-year talks. The songwriting is also impeccable; always accessible but never shallow, qualities that immortalized songwriters like Bob Dylan. If you’re skeptical that some of the praise thrown around here for White and Blunderbuss is vain puffery, take a minute to consider who else is putting out consistently solid rock or blues/rock albums in today’s music scene with as much of a promising creative trajectory as White’s.
The list is extremely short.
Enjoy the palette of sounds available on Blunderbuss, because it’s not just good – it’s really good. Hopefully some of the stylistic directions taken here are signs of more great things to come from Jack.
(1) Missing Pieces
(2) Sixteen Saltines
(4) Love Interruption
(7) Weep Themselves to Sleep
(10) Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy
(13) Take Me With You When You Go