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