As a head of three major rock outfits (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather) and a long-time favorite all three of LxL’s constituents, Jack White (and his debut solo album Blunderbuss) is a natural to get our three-way review royale treatment. As arguably the most hyped release of 2012, the amount of discussion and hype surrounding an album such as this often gets so bloated that the album itself turns out to be a bit of a disappointment, and I will say that upon first listen I thought that may have been the case. But Blunderbuss is not the sort of album that hits you over the head the first time you hear it (even if “Sixteen Saltines” does), but slowly crawls its way into your head and heart.
The question lied before its release as to where Blunderbuss would fit within the spectrum of Jack White sounds? Would it be the freewheeling classic rock of the Raconteurs? The sensual, smoky metal of the Dead Weather? Or the artsy minimalist blues of his staple band, the White Stripes? As much of a copout as this is, I would say he has pulled pretty equally from all three, but not in the ways you would expect. Blunderbuss carries the carefree rock attitude at times of the Raconteurs with some of the classic piano-driven story songs he did with that project (“Carolina Drama” being exhibit A).You can also definitely tell what he learned from being in a band with a female lead in Allison Mosshart in the Dead Weather, since the female voice and element is quite prominent on Blunderbuss. Finally a song like “Sixteen Saltines” is practically a refurbished version of the refrain on “Hardest Button to Button”, but for the most part, Blunderbuss doesn’t pull from the blues rock end of the White Stripes, but rather from the Stripes more subdued side with songs like “White Moon” and “I’m A Martyr for My Love for You”. Jack White wisely pulls elements from all three and adds a healthy dose of country songwriting and sensibility, something White has always worn extremely well to make a most impressive debut.
One of the things I love most about Blunderbuss is the incredible amount of musical ground he covers, yet the album flows seamlessly song to song and all of it is unmistakably Jack White. “Love Interruption” is an instantly classic country song minus the country twang and one of the best songs of the 2012. That’s preceded by “Freedom at 21” which is sort of a strange, scatterbrain rap song filled with the quirkiest production and the most blistering guitar solo of Blunderbuss. Not to mention the Bo Diddley blues of “I’m Shakin’”, the ol’ timey country lullaby of “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep”, or the Eastern flavored-folk of “On and On and On”.
Unlike most albums, Blunderbuss’s second half is the better half and Jack at simply his best. Hailing from Detroit Rock City, Jack White is best known for being arguably the most important guitar player of this generation, but Blunderbuss actually shines brightest with White’s piano play. “Trash Tongue Talker” has Jack doing his best impression of the recently passed Levon Helm vocal impression (legendary drummer/vocalist of the Band) over a classic rock & roll piano line and some grooving guitar play. “Hip [Eponymous] Poor Boy” is a joyful rag-time sing along led with some spirited fiddle play and trailing piano. “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” sounds like a classic country standard but is actually a Jack White original featuring roots revivalist Pokey LaFarge and his band, the South City Three. “Take Me With You When You Go” breezes along with a smattering of drums and violin over a simple piano phrase before kicking it up to fifth gear for the song and the album’s spectacular close.
All this to say, Blunderbuss is White’s best effort since the Stripes’ masterpiece Get Behind Me Satan, and only falls fourth in my list of favorite Jack White albums (in front of all Dead Weather and Raconteurs albums, and behind three Stripes albums in Get Behind Me Satan, White Blood Cells, and Elephant).
Can’t Miss: “Love Interruption”, “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”, “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep”, “Take Me With You When You Go”
Can’t Hit: none
I can’t really disagree with Wes on too much of the above. I guess the most flagrant statement above to me is that Icky Thump is somehow inferior to Blunderbuss. Icky Thump holds a special place in my heart and I think it compares favorably to every other White Stripes album. As far as Blunderbuss goes? I view it as a step behind the best of Jack White’s best work with The White Stripes, which is still to say that it is a very very good album.
More than anything, White’s latest stumbles out of the gate with the first few tracks, which in my opinion seem a little “retready”. Maybe ol’ Jack just wanted to make the bridging the musical gap between White Stripes fans and Jack White fans a little bit easier. Songs like “Sixteen Saltine” and “Missing Pieces” are fine in and of themselves. I just feel like I’ve heard them before.
After the first few songs of “meh” material, White mellows out for possibly the best track of the year, “Love Interruption”. Not one to normally pour over and dissect lyrics, “Love Interruption” managed to impress me in that area. The warbled female vocals accenting White on this track help to fill out what is a fairly modest acoustic song.
But hasn’t that always been Jack White’s M.O.? Take something simple or classic, infuse it with raw emotion and perfect musicianship, and add a few innovations to take it to the next level. More than anything on Blunderbuss, Jack White seems to want to toy around with the piano. Be it more classical arrangements (“Weep Themselves to Sleep”), or what can only be described as a honky-tonk banger (“Trash Tongue Talker”), White’s piano work shines like never before.
Blunderbuss may not ever be viewed as the pinnacle of his career, but it will universally be recognized as another important work from the greatest artist of our generation. Hopefully Jack can keep it up for another 50 years.
Can’t Miss: “Love Interruption”, “Hypocritical Kiss”, “Weep Themselves to Sleep”, “Trash Tongue Talker”, “On And On And On”
Can’t Hit: “Missing Pieces”, “Sixteen Saltines”
It almost seems ridiculous for three bloggers to do a review royale of this nature. Ultimately, the purpose of a royale should be to show an argument over an album, and why one party would think the album in question is worth more than a damn and why another would think less. However, I think we all knew going into this one that it would be hard to find ourselves splitting hairs (our taste with the overall album may not differ, but our taste within the album does). I think the truth of the matter is that we all just wanted to speak our mind over one of the rare artists that we essentially full-heartedly agree upon. Receiving this third in line makes it hard to do anything but simply add to the gush that has already been so thickly poured over Blunderbuss like maple syrup, so that is exactly what I shall do.
My orgasm a-la Blunderbuss began right about 2:00 minute marker into the first track. I like what Austin said about feeling like he has heard this track before, but where we disagree is that is what I love this about the song. Jack spends this time taking us on a little journey through his notorious and extensive past in music. Off the cuff, we hear a piano intro that sounds like it came straight off a Dead Weather album (Specifically Sea of Cowards). As soon as the verse hits, it’s like you were just skipped directly to a Raconteurs’ verse lead by Jack (some White Stripes examples could also be used here). Then, at 1:49, ever so subtly, we hear that brilliant guitar styling of a Whites Stripes solo. Nothing major; just enough to give it an edge. Almost as if Jack introduced the album to me by saying exactly in that moment, “See what I did there Todd? I just combined three of your favorite bands (all three of which I am in by the way) and rolled them into one song.” It was all downhill from here.
The next track, “Sixteen Saltines”, is almost like a slap in the face that he still can pull off White Stripes songs if he choses to do so. Moving from there into “Freedom 21” (which is one of my favorites on the album) was just all-out Blunder-bliss. He uses studio tricks in this track, most obviously the hard left-to-right pans, in a way I feel I haven’t heard in years, and was most famously pioneered/perfected by The Beatles. At some points you literally have Jack playing two different guitars in each ear. It simply can’t get better than that.
^This is one Jack White track you MUST listen to with good headphones on (But get the real song, YouTube doesn’t have an HQ version)
He then slows things down with “Love Interruption” which doubles as a pitch perfect song, as well as a transition to the next phase of the album. I think what sets my interpretation of this album apart from Austin and Wes is that I think the album starts off with a bang, and although it changes gears, it’s not front heavy or back loaded. I think it’s great through and through. I love the balance and think it transitions perfectly from one gear to the next. The other guys covered the rest of the album pretty well, and I can’t find a reason to disagree with any other points they made.
Hearing Jack have total control, step out and experiment with some tracks, and still keep his influences priority is one of the greatest things to happen to music this year. I think Tom Waits’ last album was the last time I have been this infatuated and impressed with an album. Nothing I didn’t expect from Mr. Jack White.
Can’t Miss: “Freedom at 21”, “Love Interruption”, “I’m Shakin’”, “Trash Tongue Talker”, “Take Me With You When You Go”
Can’t Hit: none
Not much I can disagree with you two about but to say if people think three people gushing over Jack White for an entire review is a bit much, I can’t imagine what they will think of tomorrow’s list (a full on “White Out” so to speak).
Aggregate Rating: 9.5/11
Added Note: Check out our list of Top Ten Jack White songs, and dare to disagree with us.