May 7, 2012 by Dan Swinhoe
Maybe it’s due to the sheer number of projects he’s been involved with; from 2000’s Makers of High Grade Suites with The Upholsterers, to The White Stripe’s breakthrough Elephant and more recently with The Raconteurs and Dead Weather and a host of production credits, guest appearances and running a record label, it’s hard to see where he would have had the time before now.
The genesis of Blunderbuss lies within the dissolution of The White Stripes last year, meaning that White finally had to strike out alone under his own name. In keeping with his ‘Bob Dylan of the 21st Century’ style, his first album solo is a mix of blues, country, gospel and some rock’n’roll.
While his fellow Raconteur Brendan Benson has just released a solo album, it couldn’t be more different from White’s effort. In the Racs, Benson provided the pop foil to White’s country and rock leanings, and solo they’ve each taken it to the extreme. Blunderbuss‘ sound is very in tune with the album name- all very retro with a very 50s & 60s air to it.
To get the elephant in the room out of the way, Sixteen Saltines is the White Stripes number. It’s all riffs and shouting in a very ‘Blue Orchid’ vein with a great ‘who’s jealous who’s jealous who’s jealous of who?’ loop in the middle. But that’s essentially much it for tributes to the old days. Throughout the album there’s only ever little bursts of White’s screaming solos or very much guitar at all. Piano and organ are the lead instruments for most of the disc, but he still throws out the solos when he feels the need. Opener Missing Pieces is a slick hammond organ led number that builds slowly until the guitar release.
What you want from this album may depend of when you got into them. There’s enough of White’s history to keep everyone happy, but still different enough. At its heart, this is a true blues album, more morose and cynical that anything that White’s done before.
The main theme of Blunderbuss is women in all their evil forms. A look at the song titles (Hypocritical Kiss, Weep Themselves To Sleep, Hip (Eponymous) Poor boy) give a hint, and throughout the lyrics vary from relationships collapsing, swearing off those evil ladies or the general distracting potential of love. On the first single Love Interruption, White proclaims the dangers of love and his desire to kill his mother over an acoustical country number with Ruby Amanfu providing back up vocals.
The blues approach sits well with the White Stripes-style simplicity. Few songs stretch beyond the three-minute mark, and the time changes that made Consolers of the Lonely so exciting are mostly excluded in favour of letting the songs breathe. Freedom At 21 is a nice groovy number that keeps it simple but works beautifully. The title track is a slow and simple piano number but still remains catchy, channeling the Page/Plant style of Zeppelin while Trash Tongue Talker sees White doing his best McCartney impression.
A funky cover of Little Willie John’s I’m Shakin is a highlight. Combing boogie and gospel, it’s the song you can’t help but do the jitterbug to and the kind of left-field cover White likes to throw in, it wouldn’t sound out of place on Icky Thump. Weep Themselves To Sleep is another highpoint, one of the few to have a guitar as a lead, albeit as a foil for the morose piano. Closer Take Me With You When you Go starts as a floaty little number but ends as a high tempo jittery piece, and wakes you up from the dark cloud of a mood this album seems to put you in.
Though this might be his first solo album proper, Jack White the personality has grown ever-larger in recent years. With the Raconteurs and Dead Weather he may have been one of many, but it merely raised his standings with the critics, and since he founded his Third Man record label the vinyl geeks have flocked to his cause. As I was writing this, Blunderbuss had slotted in straight at No.1 in the charts, outselling Adele 2:1.
Overall, Blunderbuss is a little bit of everything; part White Stripes, part Raconteurs, with lashings of country and blues thrown in. It doesn’t stamp new ground, nor does it really surprise, but it’s good enough. It’ll probably be the best album to top the charts this year, and hopefully wont take another twelve years for the next one.