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

Categories: First Listens

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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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Willie Nelson songs
Willie Nelson songs

Jack White's first solo album, Blunderbuss, debuts at #1 this week in both the U.S. and the U.K. This marks the fourth time that the first solo album by a prominent member of a group or duo has reached #1 in both countries.

Adam
Adam

I want this album so badly!! I have a feeling "Blunderbuss" is going to be one of my favorite albums of 2012!! Jack White is a musical genius!!

Kinglouie1996
Kinglouie1996

I honestly can not wait for this to come out. I'm a huge fan of the white stripes, and I'm both curious and frightened to see what Jack can do without Meg. But that's kind of what he is, isn't it? Curious and frightening, with a whole lot of soul and ugly love mixed in. (I also have to admit to LOVING the idea of Jack White tied up in the back of a car ;)

Johndoe
Johndoe

Wow.. Spoken like a true, lets say cynic. I am sure most will agree that whatever Jack White touches will be full or originality and soul. This reviewer didn't go so far as to bash anyone, with the exception of some really great bands, but didn't really say anything either did he? As a "early release" reviewer, I would imagine you would like to actually take pride and responsibility in the privileges that you have been bestowed. Hypocritically, a poor written piece.  

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