Thursday, January 24, 2013

Albums of 2012 # 5: Jack White – Blunderbuss

You always know exactly what you’re going to get with Jack White. That’s one of the things I like most about him. He isn’t everyone’s cup of tea though, and over the past few years I’ve been sensing a subtle backlash against White and his retro-styling.

It seems that from the time the White Stripes formally announced a split in the wake of White’s wanderings – both “solo” and within new projects – his whole relationship with the music press somehow has changed. The man once heralded as a genius, and the most important artist of the first decade of the new millennium (by at least one major UK-based music mag), is now, according to some, nothing less than a fake and an imposter. I’m really not sure what has changed? Jack certainly hasn’t.
White’s default modus operandi has always been to mine the past for all it’s worth. We’ve seen it with the Stripes’ version of edgy crossover blues-rock, with the Raconteurs’ take on classic rock, and we’ve seen it most recently with the Dead Weather “side-project”, a raw variation on each of the above. And he does it again on Blunderbuss, his 2012 offering, a solo affair … (well, all of the White Stripes albums were essentially solo affairs too, but let’s just go with it for now).
From the opening flurry of the antique keyboard on the album opener ‘Missing Pieces’ right on through to the fading harmonies at the tail end of the closer ‘Take Me With You When You Go’, we’re transported into White’s world. A world where pre-owned can be presented as new without the aid of software. A world where rock rules, and if the guitar isn’t already actually king yet, then that’s only because the terrific wordsmithery has long since laid claim to any metaphorical throne.

White’s storytelling takes us on a series of short, sharp journeys to places we’d otherwise tend to forget about. Dark places. Places that more often than not feature eccentric people, outsiders, lost souls, and fringe dwellers … sometimes even Jack in the third person. All the while providing us with musical recall of where it all stems from, reminders of the various strands that have fed this thing we call rock music. Jack White is nothing if not a past master of achieving that.

And naturally, we also get the now regulation excursion into country – slide guitar, fiddle – on several songs. At 13 tracks over the course of 41 minutes, there’s a nice balance about the album, and it succeeds in feeling both familiar and fresh.
The album’s best track, ‘Love Interruption’, is a part confessional founded primarily on an electric piano, an acoustic guitar, and a barely repressed sense of anger. Whatever else “love” means, Jack just wants to feel it with brutal intensity. None of this safe, comfort zone stuff for him. A plea for pain, lust, hurt, revenge … and no little amount of murderous intent. You know – all of the usual things one normally associates with love (!) … and in turn, the track represents the very essence of everything there is to love about Jack White, all wrapped up in a two-and-a-half minute burst.

Other highlights include ‘Missing Pieces’, ‘Sixteen Saltines’, ‘Freedom At 21’, and ‘Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy’ … but there are no duds on Blunderbuss, just variety, and a few timely reminders of a far less complicated world.

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