In Blunderbuss‘ opening track, ‘Missing Pieces’, White sings of ex-spouses literally leaving relationships with his limbs. In the near-profound ‘Love Interruption’ he sings: “I want Love to … stick a knife inside of me and twist it all around.” Has Jack gone from disillusionment with love to outright masochism? Or are the ever-present women in his songs just more villainous than ever? Either way, these macabre metaphors leave you certain that Jack cannot be faking his blues – they’re all too vivid to have been merely conjured up.
In contrast to his dark subject matter, Jack employs a jauntiness in his vocal delivery throughout most of Blunderbuss. The playful, near-freestyle approach is notable in songs such as ’Freedom at 21′ and ‘Weep Themselves to Sleep’, both of which fantastically contrast the dark themes he sings of. In ‘Freedom at 21′, Jack White delivers embittered lyrics such as, “Smile on her face, she does what she damn-well please,” and uses every weapon of his vocal arsenal to deliver them as he gears up into higher octaves.
Likewise in ‘Hypocritical Kiss’, you could be convinced that Jack White is actually arguing with himself rather than his apparent dominatrix of a spouse: “And who the hell’s impressed by you? I want a name for people that I know who are fallin’ for this.” It’s almost too self-deprecating to bear. However, the theatre of White’s internal domestic is made overly dramatic by the Vaudville piano, which, unfortunately, detracts from Jack White’s innate bluesmanship. Similarly, Jack’s angry monologue in the song may help you forget about his playful and spontaneous side.
However, the album’s carefree moment is the cover, ‘I’m Shakin’. It allows White to flex his musical muscles: the scaled riff, the gospel howls, the solo squeals and muffled vocal that candidly shout: “I’m Noivuss.” (The groove will make you want to emulate the famous John Travolta/ Uma Thurman dance from Pulp Fiction.) It’s a rare moment of early sixties fun equalled only by the other single, the garage-rock ‘Sixteen Saltines’ - the brash four chord riff is bound to draw out anyone’s inner air guitar (the one that’s probably been used been closeted since The White Stripes’ days).
The paradox of his first solo effort, however, is that only now he is on his own is his sound at its fullest. He employs any instrument needed to make the recorded track match the sound in his head, from the steel pedal slide guitar on the Neil Young-like title track to the ragtag piano that opens ‘I Guess I Should to Sleep’. It seems that moving his musical empire to Nashville has liberated him.
White’s ‘debut’ album will justly be considered by critics and audiences alike as an evolution rather than a revolution of Jack’s folky sound of Americana. Nevertheless, Jack White, whether in a progressive or nostalgic mood, is always impressively authentic. Even the dud songs will surprise you on further listens. Blunderbuss reaffirms White’s urge to seem both genuine and melancholy in spite of his mainstream appeal, something he once again accomplishes with idiosyncratic and eccentric charisma.
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