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Jack White goes solo on ‘Blunderbuss’

Chris Collum | Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yes, this is the Jack White (born John Anthony Gillis) – Jack White of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather and about two dozen other collaborations. While technically his debut solo album, White’s music has been a part of the public consciousness for over a decade, at least since that animated video for “Fell in Love with a Girl” starring Lego figures in 2001.
This is also, perhaps more importantly, the first piece of music we’ve heard from White since he and sister/wife/ex-wife (depending on whose story you believe) Meg White, whose surname he now bears, dissolved the White Stripes a little over a year ago.
The thirteen songs that comprise “Blunderbuss” came out of recording sessions with various guest and session musicians in late 2011 in his Nashville studio. According to Rolling Stone, White said in a statement that the record is “an album I couldn’t have released until now. I’ve put off making records under my own name for a long time but these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name. These songs were written from scratch, had nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression, my own colors on my own canvas.”
While Jack has also said that Meg White “completely controlled the White Stripes,” he wrote and composed all of their songs; so naturally, the obvious starting point when talking about “Blunderbuss” is the White Stripes’ music.
As far as the sound of this record goes, it probably sounds the most like “Get Behind Me Satan,” the band’s second-to-last album which featured rock radio hit “My Doorbell.” The keys, the guitar sound on most songs, the tinkling bells in the background – all of these things recall “Get Behind Me Satan.” The new album’s first single, “Love Interruption” is especially reminiscent of that record.
However, some tracks, such as second single “Sixteen Saltines” – also the album’s high point – or “I’m Shakin’,” sound more like the thrashing garage rock of the Stripes’ second album “De Stijl,” or the Raconteurs’ debut.
This kind of back-and-forth between tracks with lush, sometimes acoustic instrumentation and straightforward riff-driven blues or garage rock is typical of White’s style in recent years. His signature guitar sound is unmistakable, but at times he gives the listener a break from it. This only makes it all the more thunderous when he returns to it, such as on the aforementioned “I’m Shakin'” halfway through the record.
“Blunderbuss,” for the most part, sounds great. White’s voice has never sounded better, the arrangements are peerless, and when he does cut loose like on “Sixteen Saltines,” it’s very difficult to sit still when listening.
White’s lyrics on this record focus primarily on love lost, and the utter confusion that follows from it. Opener “Missing Pieces” sums it up perfectly: “Sometimes someone controls everything about you / And when they tell you that they just can’t live without you / They ain’t lyin’, they’ll take pieces of you.”
On first single “Love Interruption,” he sings, “I want love to: / change my friends to enemies, / change my friends to enemies, / and show me how it’s all my fault.”
This kind of morose introspection is everywhere on the album, more often than not in juxtaposition with the album’s bouncy, often sunny arrangements. Usually it works, and on the few occasions when it doesn’t, such as on closer “Take Me with You When You Go” – which feels more like a cut-and-paste collage of three different songs than one coherent one – it’s still a lot of fun.
Elsewhere, on “Freedom at 21,” he explores “freedom in the 21st century,” describing a character who has “Two black gadgets in her hands / All she thinks about / No responsibility no guilt or morals / Cloud her judgment,” before erupting into one of his now-famous squelching, cry-out-to-the-heavens guitar solos.
“Blunderbuss,” if nothing else, serves as a closing statement on the White Stripes era of White’s musical career, as well as a closing statement on the confusing relationship (whether romantic, familial or otherwise) with his ex-White Stripes band mate. To that end, it accomplishes its purpose masterfully.
With “Blunderbuss,” Jack White has created a record that first of all sounds really, really good; secondly, is a ton of fun to listen to and third, has the ability to make the listener stop and think on repeated listen. It is not a high water mark of his career – in other words, he has created better pieces of music in the past, and probably will again in the future.
Any fan of White’s previous work is sure to enjoy this record, even if they don’t count it among their favorites in his expansive catalog.
White will be doing a lot of touring in the coming year, including two shows at Lollapalooza in Chicago this fall. Check out his complete touring schedule at http://jackwhiteiii.com/tour-dates/

Best Tracks: “Sixteen Saltines,” “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” “Love Interruption”

Contact Chris Collum at [email protected]