Release Date: April 23, 2012
Third Man Records; 13 Tracks
Review by: Colton Eddy
Jack White shows his colours as the peacock of modern rock.
Jack White doesn’t only conduct a rock’n’roll train of nostalgia and disillusion, but he conducts an orchestra of a thousand personalities, with a resume features acts strangely ranging from The White Stripes and The Raconteurs to collaborations with The Rolling Stones, Loretta Lynn, and Insane Clown Posse. Drippings from those canvases have spilled all over Blunderbuss in his trademark wildly satisfying weirdness as he continues to prove that he is arguably the most important man in rock music today - a great songwriter, an innovative guitarist, and the right dose of eccentric. There’s nobody quite like Jack.
Hell, the man has the ability to make a theme song from an early-nineties teen soap sound like a clash of Wilson Pickett and Jimmy Page – the track in question is the album's second single "Sixteen Saltines", bearing eyebrow raising hints of ‘90210’.
In many reviews, the new album has been heavily considered to be White’s answer to Bob Dylan’s post-relationship memoirs of Blood on the Tracks. That makes sense. There’s little doubt that he is still in deep thought over the dissolution of The White Stripes with Meg White and of his marriage of six-years with Karen Elson. What’s expectedly strange is that some background vocals on the album are courtesy of Elson, while White romances about nameless women through each situational lyric. With his blindfolded heart on his sleeve, White’s most obvious response to Meg is during "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy", when he pleads: “And you’ll be watching me, girl. Taking over the world. Let the stripes unfurl. Getting’ rich singin’ poor boy. Poor boy.”
White revealed some of his cards in a recent New York Times interview, where he discussed the fall-out with his former wife/sister/Stripe: "Meg completely controlled the White Stripes," he said. "She's the most stubborn person I've ever met, and you don't even get to know the reasons. That band is the most challenging, important, fulfilling thing ever to happen to me. It's something I really, really miss." That tone is set with the album opener "Missing Pieces", where he curses to the wind, “When they tell you they can’t live without you. They ain’t lying, they’ll take pieces of you and they’ll stand above you and walk away.”
If there’s a theme on this album, it’s Jack’s seemingly struggling fascination with the opposite sex and what libido means in a self-loathing, post-gender cultural identity world. At the end of that Times interview, White describes a dream that acts as a metaphor with his complicated relationships with women. In this dream, he encounters a women who turns him on, and his desire spirals out of control as she becomes bigger and bigger and moves further out of reach. He said: “Not only was she becoming larger and more important than me and able to crush me or destroy me, but at the same time she’s going out of focus, and I’m less in touch with how to connect with her. It’s really interesting. I don’t know who that girl is. Maybe she’s all girls.” His mystery man, Don Draper-like character makes it hard to believe what is authentic and what is conceptual or theatrical. And his choice to surround himself with a band consisting mostly of girls is like a loaded weapon. A man seriously addicted to the warmth.
Drawing from Dylan (White’s idol and friend), the lines of truth and irony in the men's lyrics are just as blurred as their own personas, rooted by both abandoning their given names (White was born John Anthony Gillis and Dylan was born Robert Allan Zimmerman). In an interview with The Guardian, White talked about reading Dylan’s memoir, “It was painful. It would bring me to tears or it was like looking in the mirror. It was like a song that never met his dad” - a revelation that can be felt in "Hypocritical Kiss".
Over and above Dylan's affects on White's work, almost every track can be stemmed with some biological influence. "Trash Tongue Talker" or "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" could have been fathered by Elton John’s Honky Chateau with it’s ivory-clanging, and the fiddle, mandolin, pedal steel and acoustic drumming are tainted with Nashville flourish. He’s a countryman by soul with a blues-fetish, much like Elton. And then there’s the brilliant vintage Little Willie John cover of "I’m Shakin’’ with a blood-clenching guitar solo that speaks volumes dialed to eleven.
His heart and hand meet at the crossroads and deliver White’s best album since 2003’s Elephant – an expansive collection of secret-kept, bittersweet comfort. And although it isn’t what we might have been hoping for, it’s what we needed.