Jack White - Blunderbuss - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Jack White - Blunderbuss

by Rich Morris Rating:8 Release Date:2012-04-23

Following his divorce from his wife of six years, Jack White's first solo effort is getting billed as his Blood on the Tracks. Of course, what with this being Jack "Meet my big sister" White, Blunderbuss is nothing so straightforward, although you get the impression White would be happy with the comparison, as throughout this album he goes out of his way to give the impression that his marriage combusted in the sourest way imaginable.

Much of the lyrical content here revolves around violent, bloody imagery - nose bleeds, disease, missing limbs - and that's just in the opening 'Missing Pieces', on which he also sings: "When they tell you they just can't live without you/ They ain't lying, they'll take pieces off you." In fact, going by the lyrics of pummelling single 'Sixteen Saltines', it sounds like the whole marriage was a drag: "I hear her whistle/ That's how I know she's home", which makes White sounds like Rodney Bewes in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, something a little hard to imagine.

Indeed, you'd be right to retain your skepticism while listening to Blunderbuss. Not only was the split apparently entirely amicable, but the former Mrs White, Karen Elson, sings backing vocals on the album. Besides, since when has White been a soul-bearing singer-songwriter, as opposed to a myth-spinner and tall-tale-teller par excellence? It all leads to the suspicion that the 'wronged and wounded lover act' is now a role White is trying on.

And, boy, does he go for it here. 'Freedom at 21' and 'Love Interruption' both lay into an unnamed woman in a way which makes her sound like Myra Hindley crossed with Bloody Mary, minus the coquettish charm of both: "No responsibility, no guilt or morals cloud her judgment/ Smile on her face/ She does what she goddam please." 'Love Interruption', a pretty country ballad, even sees fit to have a go at the concept of love itself, taking masochism to new heights: "I want love to murder my own mother/ and take her off to somewhere/ like Hell or up above."

All this makes Blunderbuss a strange but compelling listen. You're acutely aware you're being manipulated, which makes it hard to buy into the White's blood and thunder declarations, yet the whole affair is never less than consummately realised. For those, and there are many, missing The White Stripes since White decided to concentrate on his other two bands, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, Blunderbuss will provide a hit of pure, unadulterated Whiteness.

In fact, from the Get Behind Me Satan style piano thumping of 'Hypocritical Kiss' to the fragile country balladry of the title track, to the glammed-up, campily ornate soft rock of 'Weep Themselves to Sleep', this album provides ample evidence for the case that White is the best rock star of the last decade. More difficult to judge, however, is whether Blunderbuss is a truly great album. The trouble is that its over-aching theme is one you just can't buy into and one which, ultimately, isn't as interesting or as enjoyable as just witnessing the man getting back in the saddle and being Jack White.

Ultimately, Blunderbuss works more as a collection of great moments: his shoop-shoop girl-group rock 'n' roll reading of Little Willie John's 'I'm Shakin'; the catchy 60s folk-pop of 'Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy', the most light-hearted White sounds on this record; or the symphonic pedal-steel and flinty barrel-house piano which open 'On and On and On'. Taken together, this way well be the richest-sounding record White has made. And it's a record which, despite its somewhat stormy nature, you'll happily return to.

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