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