Album ReviewsHot

Jack White – Blunderbuss

on April 23, 2012, 8:00am
Jack-White-Blunderbuss C+
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Early last year, Jack White told BBC Radio 4’s Today that he almost chose religion over music. “I was thinking at 14 that possibly I might have had the calling to be a priest,” he explained. “Blues singers and people who are singing on stage have the same feelings and emotions that someone who is called to be a priest might have.” There’s a lot to take away from that, and it gives a little context to his most lucrative venture thus far: Third Man Records. For the past decade, White has established an undeniably thrilling brand, one which has hit many a watermark and attracted one of the industry’s most dedicated followings. For the past three years, Third Man Records – the physical shoppe, venue, and headquarters in Nashville, TN – has hosted a variety of events, all cloaked in that White-endorsed mystery that makes it so alluring. Whether it’s a rare ’45 with Loretta Lynn or a unique one-off performance of White’s various acts, the black-bricked building is quite familiar with the multi-block lines of, more or less, believers.

It’s almost messianic what White has created. In an age where countless label conglomerates are dwindling and falling into the fiery pits of bankruptcy, the former White Stripes frontman walks about in crisp suits and that trademark smirk of his, surrounded by millions of cash-carrying fans, who are willing to scavenger for rare 7″ vinyl, even if they’re falling from the sky. If that weren’t enough for religious parallels, there’s something to be said of the Third Man Rolling Record Store, a truck that travels across the land, selling goods all under the Third Man umbrella. By the time it can even toot its horn, there’s already a mob scene surrounding it, almost as if there’s this divine that dwells within, because, really, the first thing everyone’s always thinking is: I wonder if Jack’s inside.

There’s a reason to focus on this, despite the fact that this is a review of his solo debut, Blunderbuss, because for the past three years, that’s really what White has been about. Following The Raconteurs’ Consolers of the Lonely in 2008, White’s remained behind the scenes, even throughout the two LPs for The Dead Weather. Instead, he’s become a figurehead, something bigger than a musician (read: Nashville Music City Ambassador), and his music now has taken on its own mythos, something even deeper than the mercurial days of Jack and Meg. So, with Blunderbuss, there’s that to keep in mind.

White doesn’t have a clear-cut agenda on Blunderbuss; instead, he’s just letting it all out. In a way, the record feels like a mental release of three years’ worth of ideas, as if he’s sat on his own proverbial crossroads, glossing over ideas for The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or even another Dead Weather outing. It’s arguable whether he took the road “less traveled on,” but by going at it alone, he’s made quite a statement to his fans. What exactly is it? That he is his own army. A track like “Sixteen Saltines” proves that tenfold. Over crunchy chords, White spits out high school imagery (“She’s got stickers on her locker, and the boys’ numbers there in magic marker”) and a dollop of lyrical hooks (“Who’s jealous who’s jealous who’s jealous who’s jealous of who?”) that all feel stamped and ready to go for disc-jockeys everywhere. It’s a White Stripes track, but it’s not, and that’s sort of the lesson learned here.

It’s also a tad forced. Upon release, one could almost hear the digital sigh of relief across the ‘net, as if White needed to write a track that sounded like The White Stripes, to ease the tension leftover from last year’s dissolution. Its preceding single, “Love Interruption”, arguably a far more mature exercise in songwriting, didn’t receive the overwhelming reception “Saltines” did. That’s probably because with the Wurlitzer and the clarinet, it didn’t necessarily revive those feelings of seeing the Detroit duo. Ah, the predicament at hand for White. Do you shift ahead, look behind, or do a little bit of both?

Because he’s been the principal songwriter for each outfit, it’s hard to tell what he decided on for Blunderbuss. It’s a straight-up blues record– the Rhodes piano that bubble wraps opening track “Missing Pieces” sells that within 15 seconds– but isn’t that what White’s always accomplished? Whether it’s the minimalistic carnage of the Stripes, the lush instrumentation of The Raconteurs, or the mucky distortion of The Dead Weather, it all goes back to Mississippi Delta blues. White offers plenty of that here, and it all works as it has before: the Detroit prowler “Freedom at 21″; the shoulder-shrugging, rough love in “Hypocritical Kiss”; the roadside BBQ blazin’ riffs within “I’m Shakin'”; and the Stones boogy-ing “Trash Tongue Talker” all conjure up various faces in White’s armoire. However, there is a delicate underbelly to Blunderbuss.

White goes country. On the titular track, Fats Kaplin builds this Southern roadway with some fabulous pedal steel work, and it soars over Brooke Waggoner’s piano melodies, leaving White to croon his ol’ croon. When he harmonizes “Da da da da” throughout, his vocals just float. It’s beautiful and it really works. It’s a new edge to a sharp character, but it only cuts a few times on Blunderbuss. When he returns to this vibe again, it’s during “On and On and On”, a far more meditative track that could echo Wilco, but White tugs it all back. Now, if this is one trail White previously considered, he would be wise to pack lightly and venture forward, and preferably soon.

“And I know, that I can’t defeat you/But you don’t worry now, I ain’t going to preach to you,” he sings over the sentimental skip ‘n’ shake of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”. This is true. Despite the aforementioned religious connotations, White is hardly a preacher; instead, he’s just an intriguing character. People like characters, too, which explains his countless followers. The problem White struggles with on Blunderbuss, however, is that unlike Third Man Records, he isn’t building up a brand here – he’s transitioning one. He’s no longer The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, or The Dead Weather: He’s Jack White. And perhaps he’s always just been Jack White, but he still has to contend with those previous names and brands, especially if he ever plans on returning to them.

He’s a little scatterbrained on Blunderbuss, as if he’s still shaking up his past to move forward into the future, and as a result, Jack White represents everything Jack White has already accomplished. Not too shabby of a handle, but there’s just something slightly irritating about it, like there’s a secret that was lost, or just never there altogether. Does that really matter, though? Truth is, there isn’t a fan of his that won’t be waiting outside their local record stores for this release. So, technically, he’s already succeeded. Now, could you imagine if he had actually become a preacher?

Jesus take the wheel — or Jack.

Essential Tracks: “Love Interrupted”, “Blunderbuss”, and “Sixteen Saltines”

Feature artwork by Steven Fiche.

11 comments

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Roxanne
May 1, 2014 at 12:10 am

They attract everyone to them and at once make them feel more alive. Christian Hudson is an example of this type of guy.

These people have charm.

It magnetizes people and makes everybody feel more amazing, more powerful, stronger and more successful.

Andi Benson
August 30, 2012 at 7:31 am

Jack White continues to impress me. I’ve had the Blunderbuss CD in my car stereo for a few weeks now. I hated it at first – bit too screechy – but it sure grows on you. Certain snippets remind me of songs stuck in my brain from years growing up with Lennon , Dylan and Zepplin. I don’t think this is a deliberate commercial hook on Jack’s behalf. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give a shit. He really writes for music’s sake, and has a rare master’s talent for translating those feelings and crazy ideas into music. I wouldn’t put any stars on it. The man doesn’t need them. I’m infected and i want more Jack White !

Rebecca
April 24, 2012 at 3:29 pm

“And perhaps he’s always been just Jack White, but he still has to contend with those previous names and brands, especially if he ever plans on returning to them” 

I completely disagree with this. This is a solo album and she should be able to write what HE wants without the lingering taste and demands of his other bands. I feel like in this album he actually delves into what he’s touched upon in other projects. I don’t think we’ve seen him ever do as much blues as in this, and I personally loved it. We can’t expect him to keep writing White Stripes tracks, which it seems like people are wanting but need to let go. 

Roger Kingsland
April 24, 2012 at 4:28 am

That this didn’t get 4 and a half or 5 stars makes no sense to me. Sure, the album is eclectic, but it’s still a fantastic collection of songs.

juice
April 23, 2012 at 9:45 pm

It seems the only real complaint COS has about Jack’s album is, that there is a variety of sounds and some remind them of him. huh?

Jlansing29
April 23, 2012 at 11:01 am

More Jack White? What would we do if we didn’t have every word he writes and every note he plays down for history? Is it rehashed blues…again? OH BOY!!!! I know people are afraid to say anything negative about him, but….

RainDog
April 23, 2012 at 2:14 pm

Nailed it! You guys are really grasping at straws reviewing this album. Be honest – every time he releases a full length album, are you going to review it? This “reviewing marquee albums from artists which appeal to your readership” thing stinks of desperation. And how about pandering to the fan base by giving the album a decent/not amazing score? Grow some balls! It’s the same genre as before – HE STILL PLAYS GUITAR!! At least with the dead weather he played another instrument. How about some innovation? Wake me up when he emerges from a light-up pyramid to become the 3rd member of Daft Punk, otherwise color me unimpressed.

Jacketfan77
April 23, 2012 at 4:43 pm

How about just doing something extremely well? You’d tear him apart if he made some real innovation and failed miserably.  I’ll take everything Jack White does and enjoy it for what it is… good music.  Now if you don’t like the tunes then that’s perfectly fine but I hate when people want to down somebody because they happen to do something very well and try to adhere to it a little bit. Not everyone can be Wilco or Radiohead.  That being said, I think Jack really went in a different direction with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather. Sure he’s still got the same voice and his face melting guitar isn’t going to go away and I hope it doesn’t.

RainDog
April 23, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I thought I was laying on the sarcasm a bit too thick, but maybe I was too subtle. You’re allowed to say all kinds of negative things about Jack White, but there are many, many ways to do it without sounding senile. Complaining that COS reviews the first solo-album from their artist of the decade, then trotting out the “he’s ripping off a forgotten genre with no modern media exposure” is probably the wrong way to go about it convincingly.

Jacketfan77
April 24, 2012 at 11:52 am

I get it now haha. I was just all to ready to defend my man

that dude
April 23, 2012 at 10:19 am

Not even 4 stars? C’mon…

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