Very few active musicians under the age of 40 today could be called living legends, but Jack White is truly one of them.
Blunderbuss, his fantastic debut solo album, is a rebirth of sorts. It channels his Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather past with some more White mojo, and more than a touch of vintage White weirdness. In fact, it’s a cleaning out of sorts. Besides, his form’s much better here than his recent studio work, be it with the Strips or the Raconteurs. What’s most exciting is that Bluderbuss could well be the start of a great solo career for this modern-day Guitar Slinger.
The album kicks off with the very warm Missing Pieces, where the narrator’s being treated for a nosebleed by a woman but only wakes up to find his nose and legs hacked off, and the woman departed. Channeling vintage British prog rock tones, against the backdrop of a Rhodes piano, White sings lines like “Sometimes someone controls everything about you“, which pretty much sets the mood for the album. Produced in the backdrop of his divorce to Karen Elson, who also provides backing vocals, this song also packs in some brilliant lead guitar work. The spluttering guitar solo is sonic-perfect and melodious at the same time. Freedom At 21, an avant-garde freak-out track peppered with peppy, breakfast hip-hop beats, continues with the anti-21st Century woman theme, with Jack White rapping (!) about a punishing femme fatale.
The first single, Love Interruption, invokes White’s gothic Dead Weather days, while second single Sixteen Saltines is the most Stripesque track on the album. A 1970s stoner boogie with heavy, filthy raunchy guitar (very reminiscent of the White Stripes’s The Hardest Button To Button), this track is tinged with tones of jealousy and an angry falsetto that works.
The rather dark side one of the album is rounded out neatly by the title track, a beautiful piano-driven ballad about wordless love where White explains Blunderbuss as “a romantic bust, a blunder turned explosive“.
There’s a visible change in the mood from side two. The first song Hypocritical Kiss has White admitting his faults from the opening line itself, amidst the backdrop of some great piano waltz. Weep Themselves To Sleep, a staggering piano rocker, backed by some great JW electric guitar riffing, is very post-Ziggy Stardust 1970’s Bowie in its theatrics and inspiration. Interestingly, a bit of the album’s anti-woman sentiment continues on this song – “No one could blow the shows/Or throw the bones that break your nose the way I can,” sings White.
And as we come out of the busted noses part of the album, things are shook up with I’m Shakin’, an R&B cover of Little Willie John’s 1961 song. White absolutely sexes it up here with some great R&B riffs and hooks, making a blaster rocker out of this jook-joint classic. Trash Tongue Talker is White at his tribute-paying best. The piano riffs are reminiscent of his adopted Nashville roots while the vocals are reminiscent of Jagger in jive and 50’s bounce. The Nashville roots show up big-time again on the pedal steel in On and On and On, a psychedelic pop with a haunted piano accompaniment. I Guess I Should Go To Sleep has a jazzy tempo, great vocals, great piano fills and a beautiful violin solo.
While any of these tracks could be stand-alone stand-outs in any album, White has more than that up his sleeve, in the form of the best song on the album: Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy. With a great descending bass line, hopscotching rhythm and melody, White channels Dylan in his artistry and early 70s Kinks in his sound. Its irresistible arrangement is instantly lovable and makes it an instant JW classic, though it’s nothing like he’s ever done before. Also, it must be said that there’s no man out there who could do justice to this track quite like JW can.
The album closer, “Take Me With You When You Go” is an absolute JW cracker, backed by piano, fiddle and distorted electric guitar. “And I can’t catch a breath or a break/Like a guy who’s strangled and begging,” White whines, only to push himself back on his feet with a hope of love. “Take me with you when you go, girl/Take me anywhere you go/I’ve got nothin’ keeping me, here/Take me with you when you go“. Quite a positive note to end on.
Blunderbuss is a great solo debut album. It has a great range in its influences, but still heavily steeped in the blues. But White doesn’t let the somewhat rigid structure of the blues contain him; instead, he rather uses it to paint a vivacious canvas. Last year, White’s contemporary and probably his only equal Derek Trucks’s Relevator won the Grammy for Best Blues Contemporary Album Of The Year, perhaps signaling the re-entry of the blues back into popular realms. Jack White, with his spectacular Blunderbuss, simply takes it forward. Hats off, Jack!
Verdict: Blunderbuss is easily 2012’s best album till now. Listen!