Jack White earns solo stripes with "Blunderbuss"
Blunderbuss is a fitting title for Jack White's first shot at a solo album. Old-fashioned, lightweight, but ultimately its share of firepower accomplishes what it was made to do.
From honky-tonk bitchfests—like first single "Love Interruption"—to piano-strung power ballads—"Hypocritical Kiss"—Blunderbuss contains what we've come to expect from a modern genius: simply good songs, emotionally prepared and sent out with a hook, line and sinker.
But, it can be too expected. "Sixteen Saltines" is rudimentary even for an artist so famously minimalist. Where are the riffs that can stand next to "Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine", or even Icky Thump-er "Little Cream Soda"?
What is unexpected is not so much what White plays, but says. In "I'm Shakin'", he aims to warm a little more than your mother's heart this time around, mewling about fevers and trembling knees. "Freedom at 21", its complex percussion and twin-barrelled guitar solo making it a musical highlight, is otherwise marred by lyrics that imply a condemnation of female "freedom in the 21st century" (although I'm still hoping that's not what he meant). Cool it, Jack: While your ex-wife may have messed you up pretty bad, not every gal will.
At the same time, "On And On And On" is gorgeously eerie, all the more for its sonic possession by the ghost of White Blood Cells, which is probably his best record. And the intelligence and poetry of the title track, a Dylan-esque tale of illicit love, makes up for the distaste of "At 21": "Demons in your pocket that sang romance / Performed a dance inside a silver locket."
In esoteric liner notes, the young White railed against a "disgusting world of lottery ticket holders caring about only the for-the-moment pleasure." This solo effort suggests he might've mellowed out on these principles, being created evidently just for the fun of it.
That's really how Blunderbuss is best enjoyed: not as the successor to one of the last decade's most iconic bands—because while listening to this album, it's hard to shake the feeling that a tiger's just not a tiger without its stripes—but as simply a romp.
On "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy", White yowls, "While you're laughin' at me, I'll be laughin' at you!" In other words, don't take him too seriously, because despite a past of taking himself quite seriously indeed, that isn't what White's doing now.
You can decide if that's refreshing, or a little disappointing.
Blunderbuss comes out on April 24, but it's streaming already on iTunes. Below, watch the trailer for Unstaged, a webcast of White's New York Webster Hall gig directed by Gary Oldman, scheduled for April 27 at 9 p.m.