Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Blunderbuss by Jack White

by Ben Schofield 

Copyright 2012, Third Man Records

With the release of Blunderbuss Jack White marks a cornerstone of his career. His first solo album steps away from everything he’s done before, towards an uncertain future; on the surface littered with predatory women and weak, socially ill-adjusted men, this isn’t a celebration of love, but a withering remark on it’s betrayal by the people of the 21st century. The album comes straight from the heart of Tennessee but it can’t be pinned down musically. One moment, soul aching blues, another, pure furious angsty rock, and as a man who was practically breastfed on punk before turning to blues, Jack does angst well.

The first thing you notice when you listen to the album is the tortuous descriptions of the sufferings laid upon the subservient male characters. “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” So goes the opening verse of “Freedom at 21” asymmetrically spat over a ferocious, repetitive riff, reminiscent of “Seven Nation Army”, add to a backdrop of speeding drums, produced by an ingenious tape echo of the original recording, and you’ve got a hit. In keeping with his affectations towards the number three perhaps he has intentionally placed the most powerful song third. The third verse, within which White, cuts everything down to the bare minimum, stripping this album to it’s core moment. Jack White III lyrically rapping the accusatory stanza in one ear, while the guitar thunders in the other. It’s his best moment by far.

Of course in the past year the great gentlemanly Jack has seen plenty of troubles with the women in his life. The first single from the album, “Love Interruption”, was released two days before the one year anniversary of the White Stripes split which left many fans (including the reviewer) bereft. In June of 2011 White also went through a divorce from his partner Karen Elson; however the couple have remained good friends. Miss Elson has remained on Third Man Records, the record label of which Jack White is CEO and founder, as a recording artist and has even sung backing vocals on three songs from side two of the album. However in the bouncing blues ballroom number “I’m Shakin‘”, written by Rudolph Toombs, it is perhaps poignant in the way White delivers the line “Samson was a mighty good man, strongest in his day” before Elson comes back with “Then along came Delilah and clipped his wig”.

As a man who performs well under constraints, limiting himself to just guitar piano and drums in The White Stripes, often forcing himself to record a whole album in two weeks, I was uncertain as to whether Blunderbuss could ever live up to the past. But that wasn’t the point of this album, it wasn’t to live up to the past, or to recreate it, it was to step away, and make the album that he always wanted to make. As he puts it himself in “On and On and On”, “The people around me/Won’t let me become what I need to/They want me the same”. Letting go of the past, this is a great album, it isn’t ground-breaking, it isn’t quite awe inspiring, but it is great. There’s something timeless about the songs which leaves you feeling almost as though you’d heard them before but just never before in that way. “And men who fight the world/And love the girls that try to/Hold their hands behind them/they won’t be left behind by time” and neither will this album.

Rating: *****

Blunderbuss by Portsmouth Point on Grooveshark

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