Jack White – Blunderbuss
by Nick Hugon (International Affairs), published May 1st 2012
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Here are some things we know about Jack White: he’s the everything-but-drummer of The White Stripes; he’s the executive of Third Man Records; he still records everything on analog tape; he can make a functioning electric guitar out of plywood; he can solo so ferociously that his fingers bleed all over his guitar; he looked a little like Dave Navarro for a while; he’s frontman of The Raconteurs; he’s the drummer, singer, or guitarist for The Dead Weather, depending on his mood. Et cetera, et cetera.
There’s very little that Jack White does not do, and there’s even less that he does poorly. This much is generally accepted as fact. There’s a palpable significance, then, to White releasing music as “Jack White.” As Reuters reports, White said, “these songs could only be presented under my name,” which is a pretty hefty statement for a man who has such an impressive curriculum vitae.
We are to assume, then, that Blunderbuss is – at least to White himself – a very personal expression with real reflective significance. The resulting output will provide genuine insight on the nature of the man who masterminded one of the most iconic bands of the past two decades, in addition to other undeniably notable projects. It is disappointing, in this case, that “Sixteen Saltines,” the album’s second single, is nothing more than a conspicuously undercover White Stripes song, perfectly situated to please everyone who misses “Seven Nation Army” a bit more than is warranted.
A straightforward Stripes song isn’t really that offensive on a record that promises to illustrate Jack White’s true preferences; it was his band, after all. But The White Stripes was a band with a very deliberately conceived message – the invitingly childish clamor, the color scheme – and everything was designed to look and sound a certain way. The White Stripes didn’t showcase Jack White to his greatest potential, per se; it just allowed him to operate within certain comfortable sphere.
Therefore, one would hope that on Blunderbuss, White would seek to hover somewhere outside of the space that The White Stripes afforded him. And he does, most of the time, but “Sixteen Saltines” simply doesn’t conjure any sort of Stripes nostalgia. There’s no room for The White Stripes on Blunderbuss, so if that nostalgia is what you’re after, go listen to the real thing.
As I mentioned, “Sixteen Saltines” is a bit of an anomaly, and White does deliver a really enjoyable record. But it’s not until the title track, five songs deep into the album, that things really get up to speed. Opener “Missing Pieces” is good, and so is lead single “Love Interruption,” but if you were paying any attention to this album prior to its release then you’ve already heard that, and you’re probably already over it. “Blunderbuss,” “Hypocritical Kiss,” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep” are three of White’s very best songs, period. So is closer “Take Me With You When You Go,” and everything in between is good fun as well.
Of all the things that complete the sentence: “Jack White is…” the most fitting might be “a historian.” White has immense respect for the musicians that came before him, which he embodies in his own art, right down to his recording process. With The White Stripes, Jack White would often take some heat out of his preposterously frenetic shows by covering Dolly Parton’s timeless “Jolene.” If I had to assign an artist to that cover, I would have always given it to The White Stripes, simply because Meg was on stage. But Blunderbuss makes it clear that music like “Jolene” is where Jack White truly buries his bone. Although born and raised in Detroit, White headquartered his label, Third Man, in Nashville for a reason. Country-blues dominate the second two-thirds of Blunderbuss, and that portion of the record completely sheds any attempt to hearken to the past. Blues have always infiltrated White’s music, but Blunderbuss is the first time he is able to completely embrace that vibe.
There’s a moment about midway through “Take Me With You When You Go,” the album’s final track, where a jumpy piano line interrupts a smooth strings arrangement. And then, as if arriving unannounced and uninvited, White’s guitar growls and tears through the piano and launches into the record’s most carnivorous riff, soon to be joined by a tight drum groove and White’s searing vocals and frantic fiddling. It’s the album’s most triumphant moment, and it’s a one that simply wouldn’t exist in any other Jack White project. It’s why Blunderbuss is a success; exceedingly listenable, honest and new. It’s not without flaws, but Jack White got famous in a band to which imperfection was as intrinsic as distorted guitar, so in some ways it’s fitting that Blunderbuss captures the abundant talent of Jack White alongside his palpable mortality.
Recommended Tracks: Blunderbuss, Hypocritical Kiss, Weep Themselves to Sleep, Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy, On and On and On, Take Me With You When You Go