Jack White: Blunderbuss Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three Takes on Blunderbuss by Jack White.
Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak)
I’ve always enjoyed Jack White’s work in his other projects, but I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been a devout follower of his career. With that, I went into Blunderbuss with absolutely zero expectations. I had heard “Sixteen Saltines” and “Love Interruption,” thinking favorably of both, but not blown away by either. I came away pleasantly surprised, fond of the large majority of the record and more appreciative of the man who has become a musical icon of our generation.
Anyone that saw Jack White’s recent SNL performance witnessed the adorably campy way White switched from an all-female backing back to an all-male one of the second song of the evening. While this seemed to be all for show, when listening to Blunderbuss’ 13 punchy tracks, you can actually envision this change and understand that it’s for sound. The album alternates between White’s signature crunchy guitar hooks and a newfound (or at least more prominent) love of piano, which works the best near the middle of the record on the emotive “Hypocritical Kiss” and the urgent bellowing on “Weep Themselves to Sleep” (which also boasts one of White’s killer screeching guitar solos). Then there’s the beginning of “I’m Shakin,’” which could easily be mistaken for a tune by The Black Keys (the irony has seemingly come full circle). The standout for me, though, may very well be the most timid track on Blunderbuss. Take away the intermediate drumming and “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” sounds like a White Stripes outtake done right, with White utilizing some of the same production mastery he used on Loretta Lynn’s Van Lear Rose.
Now if Mr. White would just visit Minneapolis for a night or two, it’d be nice to hear some of this new material live before he moves on to his next endeavor.
Numerous side projects, managing the day-to-day at Third Man, and a daunting task to show what’s so different about Jack White aside from the band known as The White Stripes, how does one overcome all that to create Blunderbuss? There’s really not a question as to Jack White’s virtuosity, and Blunderbuss showcases that in a lot of ways. What comes in this debut solo record from Jack White is not so much drastically different from his work with his various side projects and his work with the White Stripes, if anything it sheds another layer as to what Jack White can do with all that influence, and its evident in “Freedom At 21” where a nice groove settles in and Jack blurts out lyrics similar to bounce type hip-hop, riding the rhythm perfectly. “Sixteen Saltines” is an outright rock jam, whereas “Love Interruption” is a nicely tinged acoustic song with some well-done keyboard work. Which brings us back to the initial question: what’s so different about Blunderbuss? Really, if you’re looking at the album from an aesthetic point of view, not much has changed. Sure there may be more mid-tempo jams around and a fair share of nicely done acoustic ones, but one thing is for sure, Jack White continues to be a man who can wear many hats and still treat every project like its something new.
I didn’t jump into the Beach House review we did last week, but despite the fact that I like Beach House much more than Jack White, I couldn’t help but having the same thoughts about both albums. How many times can you go back to the same well before people get tired? With his first solo LP Blunderbuss, Jack White goes back to the sounds that have made him so famous with the White Stripes, Dead Weather, The Raconteurs and his other various projects. White takes the listener on a tour of his previous greatest hits, ranging from the hard charging garage blues of “Sixteen Saltines” to the melody rich piano jaunt “Hypocritical Kiss” to the folk-y “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” and back to the sultry, organ groove of “Missing Pieces.” Like always, there is clear talent present on the album, with White able to wring a slightly new sound or different take on a sound that is many lifetimes older than him, but how long can you walk down the same path before it starts seeming a bit redundant? Like Beach House, most fans with previous experience with his work would be able to pinpoint that this a Jack White effort within the first minute of any of these songs. This speaks to a distinctive and meticulous sound that has been perfected over the years, but I couldn’t help but thinking what could have been if he had taken his talent in different directions. His work with Loretta Lynn was cool—why not a rustic, old school country album? He put out a White Denim LP on his Third Man Records—why not a pysched out blues meltdown? Blunderbuss will appease current fans of White, bring in a few new listeners and leave causal fans like myself feeling wildly indifferent.