White’s All Black and Blue
Jack White has lost some of his edge with his first solo album, “Blunderbuss.” Gone are the buzzing riffs and smashing cymbals of his White Stripes (R.I.P.) days; instead of fading into the background with his famous friends and bandmates (Alison Mosshart, Jimmy Page, The Edge, Brendan Benson, etc.), on this album he is an island.
White is rock’s perpetual motion machine; like he sings on this album, “But I can’t sit still / Because I know that I will.” He is constantly in a state of creation, either creating a new band, discovering new talent for his record label or writing his own solo material. It’s hard to imagine how musicians like White ever have time to sleep.
The last year probably hasn’t been an easy one for White; his marriage to model/singer Karen Elson ended, and he and Meg White announced the official end of The White Stripes. You think that would come across more in the lyrics on “Blunderbuss,” but the personals are vague. Probably the most poignant lyrics can be found on “Love Interruption,” the lead-off single from the album: “I want love to / Walk right up and bite me / Grab a hold of me and fight me / Leave me dying on the ground,” he sings, a confident anthem of heartbreak and pain, the almost sadistic nature of love that can leave you emotionally bloody and bruised but secretly wanting more. The chorus is an affirming, post-breakup mantra: “I won’t let love disrupt corrupt or interrupt me / Anymore.” All at once, it’s an admission of a need for self-discipline from a man who is fed up with being tossed around by love, and a plea for that sort of passionate love that can make your head spin.
A sense of disillusionment with love carries throughout the album. White is beaten and bruised, in more ways than one, and all he can do is sing his troubles and keep marching along. There are no weepy, achy-breaky-heart lyrics here; it’s more like White is admitting his troubles with women through the characters on the album. He loves them, but they all seem to overpower and break him in the end. White is obviously attracted to women with a larger-than-life presence and uniqueness (Mosshart, his Dead Weather counterpart; Meg White, his sister/wife/drummer; and Elson, the Amazonian redhead who is now his ex-wife). This attraction seems to continually get him in trouble, as comes across in this album.
White is more of a storyteller here, channeling rock, country and folk stars that came before him (Loretta Lynn, Bob Dylan, Bo Diddly, to name a few). There’s a retro vibe on this album that’s reminiscent at times of Southern gospel or 1950s rhythm and blues, with subtle hints of fiddle plucks, jukebox melodies, slide guitar and ragtime piano notes. The album transports you down South almost instantly, bringing into mind some of the tracks that White wrote and recorded for the Civil War drama “Cold Mountain” (which he acts and sings in; is there anything he can’t do?). White has a fixation with all things Southern, and it has served as a source of aesthetic inspiration in much of his work. (Civil War motifs ran through his second album with The Raconteurs, and “Cold Mountain” gave him an opportunity to be a true down-home, fiddle-plucking, twangy-voiced Southern poor boy).
White’s voice is more prominently the centerpiece here than it ever was with The White Stripes, The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather. It’s more plaintive yet firm on this album, lacking the jittery, skittish, unpredictable style he brings to all his other vocals. At 36, he’s clearly showing signs of maturity on this album that can’t be seen in his other work; he’s not so concerned about being an indie heartthrob or a rock star. This album is about highlighting his songwriting skills in their truest form: solo, without influence from other musicians. He has no one to hide behind on this album, so it feels like the true Jack White is being unveiled to the world; the results, while not so shockingly new, are proof that while White wears many hats and many faces, he is simply one man with a story to tell, and it’s a story of love, chaos, pain and passion that is worth hearing.