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Jack White - Blunderbuss
IT only seems natural to include an artist…
in this feature who belongs on vinyl; a man who devotes his time to music’s roots and producing the best sound possible. I have been a huge fan of Jack White since the early days of The White Stripes. When he was recording alongside Meg; the duo created their own colour scheme – red, white and black – and believed in the power of three: that extended to instruments and was a rigid set of rules that made the music both natural and disciplined. The final album from the duo, 2007’s Icky Thump, was a sad moment; a time to say goodbye to one of my generation’s great acts…with it, the temporary absence of Jack White from the spotlight. I followed his career when he stepped into The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather: a couple of side-projects that, although White was part of a group, still seemed to shine because of his command and voice. Whilst some great songs came from those bands; there was nothing that really matched the heights and delights of The White Stripes’ glory days. In 2012, when Blunderbuss was released to the world, the Third Man Records-released record made a big impact and gained huge reviews. It sold 138,000 copies in the first-week sales and the single, I’m Shakin’, was nominated for Best Rock Performance at the 2014 Grammy Awards.
The inception and acorns of Blunderbuss have their roots in White’s explorations whilst recording with other Third Man Records artists. He was in contact with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and, when he could not attend a session, White used the musicians booked to work on his own material – why not, eh?! The musicians helped White lay down several of the songs that would go onto the record – all of which were written in 2011. The album, as you’d hope from a White Stripes man, was recorded on an 8-track analogue tape. Hired guns and readily-available musicians meant White had greater freedom to produce the music he wanted to and experiment. Unlike his time with The White Stripes, there were no strict deadlines and White had available others to make the songs come alive and stretch his imagination. The songs were all started from scratch and not designed to be sung or performed by anyone else. Although the album was leaked nine days ahead of its official release (on 15th April; it was due on 24th) it did not diminish the impact and sense of surprise. Despite the fact people had heard material from the record prior to its leak; nobody could really predict what the album as a whole would sound like. Love Interruption, the first single, was a good one to release to give a taste of the album. It is not an all-out rocker but has plenty of passion and White’s assured and characterful writing. Sixteen Saltines, released on 13th March (2012) took listeners more into the realm they were familiar with: snarling and big riffs, confident vocals and a memorable chorus.
Freedom at 21, released on 1st April, carried down the same road but did not replicate what Sixteen Saltines laid out. The latter was a saucier – see the video for the song! – and oblique number; a was more groove-and-thrust than its predecessor – Sixteen Saltines a raw and fire-minded cut. In any case; the trio of pre-release singles provided some scope and impression of what was to come. If anything, the remaining nine songs on Blunderbuss took bigger steps and new ventures for White. The intuition and excellent production skills White began honing on The White Stripes’ early albums were evident on his debut solo L.P. Missing Pieces, a good song but not one of the strongest, is then elevated by the three singles; the title-track comes next and, after five songs, you are breathless and awed. Two of the thickest and boldest tracks have been unveiled and you get the Country swoon and ache of Blunderbuss. It is amazing how many motions and genres are covered before the first half of the album is complete. It is a brave move putting three of the best-known songs from the album that far up the running order. If the rest of the album was a muted and meagre affair; it would be a case of poor programming or prove White had come too soon, as it were.
We all knew White, as a songwriter, had a fondness for Country and Blues. Look as recently – compared to Blunderbuss – as Icky Thump and Get Behind Me Satan and there are examples of Blunderbuss’ (song) tones (White Moon and Little Ghost) among them. Two piano-heavy and gorgeous tracks came after. Hypocritical Kiss - “Loud words never bothered me like they do to you” – looks at love’s cheats and lies; the way the heart and soul are controlled and manipulated. It is a song that nods to, perhaps, White’s former wife, Karen Elson (they divorced in June of 2011). Elson, in fact, provides some backing vocals on songs further down the album; perhaps there wasn’t the acrimony and frost one would associate with a newly-divorced couple. Weep Themselves to Sleep is my favourite selection from Blunderbuss. It has pomp and jump from the out. The piano flows and rolls with delicious dance and wink. White swaggers in with a half-rapped vocal that waltzes with the piano and is punched by percussion. It is constantly energised and intriguing; the chorus is fantastic and it is a song both familiar and new: it could appear on a White Stripes record like Icky Thump but has new lease and innovations working away. It shows, without limitations and a set ‘sound’; White at his most free and unshackled could produce music that confounds and stuns at the same time.
Trash Tongue Talker is another delicious number but it is the same that comes before it that compels more: the fourth single from the album, I’m Shakin’. Rudy Toombs wrote the original decades ago – an odd choice one would think; quite natural for someone who covered Blues numbers when playing in The White Stripes. The song adds extra wiggle and oomph to the original: a full-on hip-swiveler that has some yelps, gutsy riffs and a pretty cool music video! The final three tracks on the record – I Guess I Should Go to Sleep, On and On and On and Take Me with You When You Go – transpose the more urgent and physical tracks that open the album and provide contemplation, paen and profession – White showing he is just as effective when going into romantic and tender territory. Blunderbuss proves itself a more rounded, deep and expansive record than anything White had put out before. In fact, I argue it rivals Elephant (The White Stripes’ finest moment) in terms of quality and nuance. It is White’s employment of additional musicians – hiring an all-male and all-female band when performing and doing T.V. appearances – that adds flesh, colour and flexibility to his visions. I have missed a song from the rundown: Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy. Its title might seem unwieldy and child-like but it is a song that, in my mind, reaches the heights of Weep Themselves to Sleep in terms of its affect and hit.
It is a track that bridges the brutish and masculine Rock numbers and the Country-like offerings. It has melody and rhythm; it is cute but has plenty of bite. There are lyrics that refer to White’s past life – taking a dig at Meg White in some moments – and that need to move on and not play to expectations. In terms of lyrics, it is one of the most rewarding and interesting. It is a fantastic little number that some might have passed by. I feel the track order is perfect to keep the audience hooked and create hits of quality right until the end. You get the release and that sense of relief right near the top and discover new sides to White as the album goes on. The reason I have included in this segment is the fact it is one of those ‘modern classics’. It is only six-years-old but, with White’s third solo outing fresh in the mind, shows when his new lease of life began – many argue, including me, his first solo album is his finest. I have bought the album on vinyl and it sounds fantastic. I like the first side a little more but there is plenty of brilliance on the second side. It is a fantastic album and one that stands up to repeated plays and study. White, as a solo artist, has never sounded as authoritative and wondrous. If you have not played and dug into Blunderbuss; make sure you get hold of a copy on vinyl and let its every notch, groove and cut get into the blood and impress the senses. Many expected Jack White, on his debut solo outing, to repeat his White Stripes work and release something familiar. What he did was even more impressive: Blunderbuss matches the genius and variation of The White Stripes but added so much more; taking his music to new audiences and showing White was as far from a one-trick pony…
AS is humanely possible.