Saturday, April 21, 2012

Jack White - Blunderbuss Review

I find Jack White an interesting character in the pantheon of rock as any mention of him will inevitably lead to a dissection of the White Stripes asceticism - it was all drums and guitar man. Live, that was true, apart from the odd organ/piano song, it was the Jack and Meg show but pretty much since Elephant ten years ago, the records became more and more complex. Anyone thinking that purity ran through the White Stripes catalogue is deluding themselves as there were overdubs a plenty (oh my, studio trickery) and Get Behind Me Satan/Icky Thump embraced a broader palette of instruments. The guitar/drums concept was the hook but since the latter day White Stripes, Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, White has been been embracing diverse instrumentation for well over a decade. Still, everything I read in the build up to this record is talking about how it was essentially the White Stripes without Meg and how different it sounds - I call bullshit on this assertion. There is nothing shocking or unexpected on this record, it sounds like the Jack White solo record you would expect him to make, mired in music history but inspired and vibrant.

The other thing I find fascinating about Jack White is that his music never feels forced and the journey from his muse to record appears to be unclouded by overthinking or artifice. His music breathes and while I think the primitivism asserted by many fans is overstated, I can't deny that there is something naturalistic about his music. The record starts with the fantastic 1-2-3 punch of Missing Pieces, Sixteen Saltines and Freedom at 21. All three songs ride distinctive riffs but rather than rush at you, lay back in a groove and drop in and out with space to seduce you rather than hit you over the head.

This was always my biggest criticism of the White Stripes: while great, seeing them live or prolonged listening to their records felt like you were been yelled at for hours. Blunderbuss feels more relaxed and less hurried to make its point. The first single Love Interruption and the title track are both lovely. In particular, Blunderbuss sounds heartfelt and embraces the Nashville sound White clearly loves - it is gorgeous. Another highpoint of the record is the use of female backing vocals which are used to great effect throughout. Lyrically, White is funny and evocative but there is also sadness, there is some sting here:

She don't care what kind of wounds she's inflicting on me
She doesn't care what colour bruises she's leaving on me
She's got freedom in the 21st Century...

Sadly, the album starts to wane towards the end and this is in part by White being more conventional. You've heard a thousand different versions of I'm Shaking; Trash Tongue Talker sounds like a Jack White parody while Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy wafts on a familiar trope. This run of songs drags the album down. Fortunately, the record recovers with On and On and On which sounds like White covering something off Beck's Sea Change - again, gorgeous and restrained. Take Me with You When You Go finishes the album with a gentle piano waltz that morphs into a rock out - it's kind of silly but undeniably fun.

It's a satisfying end to a good record but like most Jack White productions (whether the Stripes or the Dead Weather), there's bound to be some songs that shine less brightly. However, don't be deterred, this is a quality album and if you have any love of White's distinctive take on rock, blues and soul, you'll get a lot of joy from Blunderbuss.


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