My expectations for Blunderbuss rode pretty high as I started to take my first listen. I mean, here is the first solo effort from a man who has been a huge figure in the music scene of the last 10 years. Finally, after six albums with The White Stripes, two with The Raconteurs, two with The Dead Weather, and countless production credits and guest appearances (ranging from Black Milk, to Loretta Lynn, to The Rolling Stones), I get my first taste of Jack White unrestricted by existing image and talent, and unhindered by other creative minds (like that of the excellent Brendan Benson, co-star of The Raconteurs).
The result of his unshackling?
There’s the consistency of his lyrics. The first single, “Love Interruption,” is a fantastic example of his wordsmithery. He somehow finds that balance between poetry and catchiness, and between darkness and celebration that so many artists spend their entire lives searching for, and he finds it on virtually every song. His words won’t feel unfamiliar to Jack White fans, but there’s an earnestness to them that feels new. You won’t find any of his White Stripes weirdness here (as with something like “Baby Brother”), and you won’t find the folk-rock, epic bard of The Raconteurs either. He sticks with personal experience and keeps it simple, and in this down-home style there’s something very refreshing. There are moments where he seems to be on the verge of writing ‘just another pop-rock-love song,’ but he’s masterful enough in his craft that he keeps any apparent angst appropriately reigned in.
Then there’s the music. His years performing, writing, and practicing seems to culminate on this album. The guitar work is some of his best to date; it isn’t virtuosic, surely, but every solo overflows with soul, and if The Dead Weather proved one thing, its that the man can hit the drums (begging the question, “why is Meg White,” but that’s a whole other essay). The truly impressive thing about the album musically speaking, isn’t the drumming or the guitar work though: its the album’s diversity. He really cuts loose, hitting every genre from his own trusty brand of garage rock (on “Sixteen Saltines”) to honky-tonk (“Trash Tongue Talker”), to folk (“Love Interruption”) to tunes with echoes of hip-hop and soul (“Freedom at 21”) to country (“Blunderbuss”). Furthermore, he somehow manages to do all this (and more, but I don’t want to ruin all the surprises for you) without sounding scattered or incoherent, and therin lies the rub on this piece. Its hard to classify, but distinctly Jack White’s, and if it takes him another decade to release another solo album, I think it will be worth the wait.