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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Jack White's Solo Debut, Blunderbuss: A First Listen

Posted By on Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 7:36 AM


click to enlarge jack_white_blunderbuss_art.jpg
For some reason, like the Craig Finn solo album, I'm kind of

dreading this. Jack White's one of my generation's greatest, which is partly

the reason I'm always worried about when he'll Clapton out. Without his cro Meg-non

secret weapon on drums (well, drum, singular -- as in one at a time), he came off

painfully normal alongside Brendan Benson in the Raconteurs, and tantalizing but anonymous in his

third billing with Alison Mosshart in the Dead Weather. No telling what impact this all will have

on the modestly-announced debut album under his own name, but let's rock this.

"Missing Pieces"

Ha, kind of a funny in-joke in the music here; it's like a

lounge-organ version of the oft-repeated "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground"

riff, as if he knows fans are expecting a complacent rundown of his usual

style. But the song's immediate and catchy, and you're in the middle of it

before you know it, sharing a cell with a mild shitstorm guitar solo. One of

the most normal ways to open a solo debut I think I've ever heard, despite the

Meg/breakup bait, "Sometimes I want to control everything about you."



"Sixteen Saltines"

Off to the races fun again. Ultra-dumb, massive two-chord

riff. Teenage imagery: stickers on her locker, boys' numbers in magic marker,

licking salt from his fingers. The chorus: "Who's jealous who's jealous who's

jealous of who?" The music's all sex and glam. He mentions a pink mailbox,

which makes you wonder how long White's been waiting to sing about non-red/black/white

colors. Wait, there was "Blue Orchid." Never mind.

"Freedom at 21"

Ha, unnaturally echoed drums give this one a jittery

recent-Radiohead feel. These songs are not just White's tightest in years (the

very enjoyable Dead Weather albums weren't much more than tasty swamp mush),

they're his most normal and controlled ever -- without blanding out (looking at

you, Raconteurs). But so far this makes Icky Thump look like Metal Machine

Music.

 "Love Interruption"

The first single's an obvious Dusty Springfield homage, with

doubled female vocals and cheap organ

and oboe "Son of a Preacher Man" mimicry. His lyrics are simplified as

well (White may be the most underrated lyricist of the last decade) but they're

still killer: "I want love to murder my own mother," "I want love to change my

friends to enemies."

"Blunderbuss"

As George Costanza would say, this album's making excellent

time. Hard to believe we're almost halfway in, so it's time for a psychedelic

slow one. Piano, pedal steel, and muzzle-barreled rifle references. "Designed by

men so ladies would have to lean back in their gait," sings White wistfully,

always thinking about his time-warped, anti-sense of style. The strings

actually add lightness for once.

"Hypocritical Kiss"

More pretty, mid-range piano that flows directly

out of the

title track like a tributary. Can't remember the last time I heard a

rock

record that flowed like this. White's still using the same melody here,

sort of

continuing from "Blunderbuss" with a little bit of "Missing Pieces"

thrown in. He dwells so little on these melodies that it's nice to hear

similar-sounding

ones, like themes interweaving through each other. Tangled roots-rock?

"Weep Themselves to Sleep"

Like I said, good weaving. Here the pounding elements (oh, I haven't

mentioned the session drums instead of Meg yet? They're fine, bit too competent

for him) coalesce with the piano of the last couple songs. It's pretty crazy

how smooth this all goes down, and maybe a little ironic. The last couple of White

Stripes albums had crazy experiments one would normally save for a solo album ("Rag

& Bone"! "The Nurse"!) but the Stripes made them in-the-red arena rock instead.

Here nothing's out of place, except for that wonderfully blown-out drilling

that White calls his soloing, though even that's buried tastefully under the

somewhat Fleet Foxes-friendly '70s folk-rock he's now plundering in his

plunderbus.

"I'm Shakin'"

Oh holy fucking fuck yeah. This is a cover of my favorite

song by the Blasters (Dave and Phil Alvin's 1980s roots-rock champions, look

them the fuck up), done super faithful, with the signature riff crunchier,

White's perfectly nervous wobbling vocal, and some chirpy backup ladies "wooo"-ing

on command. This album's been strong from the start but it's not likely to get

better than this. Few albums would. Dig when he sly-blurts "I'm Bo Diddley" and

you will mean and believe it.

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Dan Weiss

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