Jack White - Blunderbuss - Review
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critics' view

For someone who has hardly shrunk into the shadows of his ‘other’ bands, you’d be forgiven for wondering what exactly is going to differentiate a Jack White solo album from one produced by any of his other musical outlets.

But for a man who has remained heroically inscrutable in the face of a world desperate to scrub the sheen of mystery from all of those in the public eye, the reason behind it is probably straightforward. Blunderbuss is the most obviously personal set of songs Jack White has yet released.

That’s not exactly saying much, and we’re not talking explicit confessionals here. Nor would we want to be. It would have been hugely disappointing if, having spent so long sticking to his enigmatic guns, White had decided to dismantle his mystique with a brazen trawl through his private life.

Blunderbuss is a more oblique take on personal, in the same way Bob Dylan‘s Blood On The Tracks was. There are obvious parallels – both were written following divorces – but it’s more that both take a similar allegorical, metaphorical, obtuse route to talking about, you know, feelings and stuff. Which has to be far more appealing then a dozen songs remonstrating with the other party about who got the salad spinner in the settlement. What’s missing from Blunderbuss (and was integral to Blood On The Tracks) is the seething anger.

Nevertheless, there are hints, flashes of bitterness and recrimination: the accusatory way that Hypocritical Kiss lashes out; Love Interruption’s determined inversion of loves traditional effects into brutal, painful outcomes; the frantic, stabbing, spiteful, Weep Themselves To Sleep.

Yet they’re set against a (much) stronger sense of sorrowfulness and regret: The dreamy, pensive On And On And On, with softly twanging double bass; the wistful Blunderbuss (possibly the best thing on here); Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy, where White seemingly mocks himself (“And you’ll be watching me girl / taking over the world / Let the stripes unfurl / Gettin’ rich singin’ poor boy”) over a boogie-woogie piano.

They’re simple, understated and quite something to behold. In fact, the sole issue with them is they make the other parts of the rest of Blunderbuss easier to forget. I’m Shakin’ is a passable cover of an 1960s R&B number. Sixteen Saltines could easily have fitted on to a White Stripes album. Take Me With You When You Go bears an uncanny resemblance to Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. None are in any way poor, they’re just not at the same level.

But a few misfires shouldn’t detract from the fact that Blunderbuss is a hell of a thing. Lovelorn, honest, poignant and emotional in the best way imaginable. With such a prodigious work rate it’s possible to imagine that, at some point, we’ll discover the end of Mr White’s talents. But it isn’t here, and it isn’t now.

Tim Lee
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