Jack White – Blunderbuss (2012)

Posted: April 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

The reclusive nature of Jack White has made it difficult over the years for us to judge his true genius. Sure – we all know of his now-defunct band The White Stripes – and many of us even followed his journeys with The Raconteours and The Dead Weather. But what do we really know about him. He’s been caught acting, producing, collaborating and writing over the years, but the truth is, we still don’t know jack.

Currently a Nashville-via-Detroit native, White has always let his music do the talking and kept to himself the rest of the time. This quiet disposition has earned him the usual criticism of being detached, polarized, and outright strange – and while a lot of that may have some merit, we finally get the opportunity to step into Jack’s unique world with his first solo album Blunderbuss.

By definition, a bluderbuss is a gun with a wide muzzle that fires scattershot, and the title couldn’t be more apt to this collection of songs from one of the most varied musicians of our time. It’s safe to say that White (through his previous projects and collaborations) is a man of many hats, and he puts them on all display throughout this album. What really comes through, though, is what is going on under the hat that makes this record so intriguing.

White has claimed “I’ve got three fathers: my biological dad, God, and Bob Dylan” and that vastness of perspective is all over Blunderbuss. The tracks vary from straight-ahead rockers to chilled-down story telling, all of which have such a dedicated, purposeful sound to them that you might just call it the “feel good album of the year” – but it’s anything but that.

Beneath the guitars and pianos and stand-up bass is a dark, morose statement that takes special attention to pick up on. White walks effortlessly through this affair, but the lyrics present a harrowing circle of vultures closing in above him. There is fear, anger, pain and torture taking place in Jack’s already-twisted mind – and the end result is a harrowing collection of songs recalling severed body parts, knifings and torture. All brought about from the journey inside a collapsing relationship.

At first thought, I assumed the lyrical content had to be about his failed marriage with the recently estranged Karen Elson, but the fact that she appears all over the record in a backing vocal role makes me think that White’s resentment and struggles are wounds far deeper than surface scratches. Either that, or he has taken the opportunity to draw upon his recent experiences and twist them into a deeper, darker tale of blood and tears laced with American Gothic imagery and good old-fashioned oddness.

The album opens with “Missing Pieces,” which borrows a prog-rock intro from Yes before giving way to a sixties-influenced rocker, highlighting White’s unmistakeable voice. Squealing guitars and Moog organ fills are the flavor of the day here, and it’s easy to get lost in the trippy, near-psychedelic vibe.

“Sixteen Saltines” gives the listener a lesson in White Stripes 101, as the crunchy guitars and pounding guitars bring back memories of earlier White songs when his sister, Meg, was along for the ride. The falsetto vocals add to the many layers of sound happening here, and it permeates the eardrums with heavy rock goodness.

Although just about every song here is about the perils of loving a woman, none are as blatant as “Freedom at 21.” White croons “She don’t care what kind of wounds she’s inflicted on me. She don’t care what color bruises that she’s leaving on me. Cuz she’s got freedom in the 21st century” – an obvious cry of someone who’s had enough female equality-driven bullshit to last a lifetime. The guitar plays low and thick, and the track stands out as one of the most original offerings of the bunch.


Nashville singer Ruby Amanfu shares the microphone on “Love Interruption,” and you catch the first glimpse of how much Music City, USA has rubbed off on the garage rocker. The sound is a throwback to old country-western with just enough of a blues coating to keep it entertaining. It’s the kind of song that becomes a classic in your mind the first time you here it, and White’s drawled vocals work perfectly with Amanfu’s.

The vocal prowess continues on the album’s title track, which is plain and simple White at his best. The instrumentation is pretty and soft, but you hardly notice it when the vocals are being thrown at you. David Bowie always seems to lose me in his songs with his charismatic vocals, and White is replicating that experience here.

“Hypocritical Kiss,” with its elegant piano opening, plays along nicely with its mid-tempo pace and moving structure. It feels, again, a little White Stripe-ish, but I think that’s mostly due to the drums getting a little looser with the high hats.

While most of the album has been pretty smooth and mellow, “Weep Themselves To Sleep” takes a stab at the grandiose with blasting pianos, complicated arrangement, and wildly episodic lyrics. It’s not what you expect, but I dare you to not be impressed.

Part of what I always admired about White was his penchant for off-the-wall style and swagger, and that encapsulates itself with “I’m Shakin’.” It’s a cover of Little Wille John’s blues classic, but Jack makes it his own with some interesting tempo shifts and a hint of doo-wop. It’s a bit of a head-scratcher as to why he would put a cover track on the album that has been so undeniably personal and telling, but it still works.

Need a little jukebox honky-tonk? “Trash Tongue Talker” is all that and more. Again, White embraces a genre that is a bit left-of-center for him and completely nails it with his sincerity and skill. It’s SO different from anything else I’ve ever heard from White that it impressed me even more than the rest of this album has.

Expanding even further, White dips his finger into a little bit of vaudeville with the experimental “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy.” The energy and upbeat vibe is obviously something Jack picked up on from fellow-Raconteur Brendan Benson, as it sounds like more of a Benson signature than White’s. A nice break from the melancholy feeling the record had been putting off until now, and it fit perfectly.

I’ve always loved the Irish chantey – the tales of the drunken and disorderly sung along as a folk tune – and White does his own version with “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep.” It’s bound to be a great bar-closing song, and is the anthem for the uninspired. It’s pretty simple, but the interesting vocal overlays made it one of my favorite cuts on the album.

“On and On and On” is such a potpourri of instruments and styles that it’s bound to be the critical standout of the disc. If for no other reason, it shows how White doesn’t care about precision and perfection. It’s a little messy and ethereal throughout, but that is what makes it beautiful. It moves at a snail’s pace with stirring cellos, steel guitar accents and only in the last few bars crescendos to a loud, pronounced finish.

The softer, mellow mood carries over into the album’s closer “Take Me With You When You Go,” which comes across as a jam band effort with defined parts for pianos, backing vocals, brush snares and just about any other White could get his hands on. It combines just a pinch of everything presented in the albums other tracks and blends it all together in an amazing toe-tapper. Just when you think the album is going to fade off into numbness, though, White stomps his foot down and closes the track with raucous, fuzzy guitars and rock and roll vocals like only he can provide. A fantastic closing to a fantastic ride.

For those that don’t know of White, this is safe enough to be a nice introduction. The music is accessible and brilliant. But for those of us that were waiting to get inside the skin of Jack White and find out what he’s all about, we get treated to an album that is strange, contradictory, disturbed and gorgeous, and probably the perfect window into the elusive soul he is.

10/10

Tracklist:
01 – Missing Pieces
02 – Sixteen Saltines
03 – Freedom at 21
04 – Love Interruption
05 – Blunderbuss
06 – Hypocritical Kiss
07 – Weep Themselves to Sleep
08 – I’m Shakin’
09 – Trash Tongue Talker
10 – Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy
11 – I Guess I Should Go to Sleep
12 – On and On and On
13 – Take Me with You When You Go

Buy at Amazon

Stream Album: iTunes | Wiki: Link

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