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Jack white achieves career best on solo debut
Peter Murphy, 19 Apr 2012
The White Stripes were an outfit whose folk-art was predicated on innovation through restriction. When Jack and Meg split and those restrictions were removed, Mr. White ran hogwild with retro and scuzz rock digressions – The Raconteurs and then The Dead Weather – plus more cameos, collabs and production jobs than one imagines even his accountant could keep tallied.
Throughout these lo-fi adventures, casual listeners might have lamented Jack’s apparent abandoning of his pop sensibility, the jangling melodies that gee’d up songs like ‘Hotel Yorba’ or ‘My Doorbell’. Those same listeners might approach this latest chapter cautiously, waiting for White to reassert his melodic mojo rather than furthering his addiction to big muff pedal noise, minor blues scales and torrid Zep contortions. After all, the man hasn’t had a radio hit since ‘Steady As She Goes’.
Blunderbuss, his first solo album proper, might bear a very Whitey title, pertaining to wrought iron, fire, muck and bullets, but it largely eschews garage rock kinetics. And while many of the songs started life when their author was waiting for the RZA to show for a studio session, these are no smoky blockbeat jams either. The record does, however, possess a very Jack-be-nimble rhythm sensibility (believe it or not, ‘Freedom At 21’ would suit Missy Elliott down to the ground). And, on songs like ‘Hypocritical Kiss’, White exhibits some of the best fretboard-as-record-deck scratching this side of Tom Morello.
But the bulk of the record is Jack at his mid-tempo Stonesy best – the jaundiced balladry of ‘Missing Pieces’ or ‘Love Interruption’ – offset by tougher stuff like ‘Sixteen Saltines’ (not his best song, but a high-protein riff) and slow country swayers such as the title tune. If anything, Blunderbuss sometimes plays like a collection of the Stripes’ very best album tracks, kitted out with parlour pianos, loping Stax backbeats, thickly buttered acoustics… and that rip-snorting guitar. The hired hands, particularly drummer Carla Azar and pianist Brooke Waggoner, are thoroughbreds, and as a writer JW’s lost none of his bite. Blunderbuss may not be his Blood On the Tracks, but the whimsy of songs like ‘Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy’ is always counterbalanced by tales of severed allegiances and broken bonds (“Cut off the bottoms of my feet/ Made me walk on salt/ Take me down to the police/ Charge me with assault/ Smile on her face/ She does what she wants to me.”). And the Prince-y finale of ‘Take Me With You When You Go’ is an elegantly jazzy beauty.