A decade after coming to global prominence, it seems a little incongruous for so iconic and omnipresent an auteur as Jack White to only just be issuing his debut solo offering. It’s fair to say White’s career has been based on reinventing the wheel, something he and Meg got so bullseye-right, with the White Stripes’ red & white take on the blues, and despite having spent much of that latter half of that time producing a continuous slew of solid offerings in three concurrently running bands, White shows no signs of slacking off or getting self-indulgent on his own time. Which isn’t to say that Blunderbuss (a name that could conceivably grace a White Stripes album) is the same sort of non-stop assault of big riffs that made his assumed name, rather White uses a slightly softer palette to make the same point.
Following the Rhodes intro of “Missing Pieces,” a track reminiscent of a gentler “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground,” the punches come thick and fast from second track/first single “Sixteen Saltines,” and the frenetic reverb-heavy percussion, almost hip-hop-busy lyrics and gonzo soloing of “Freedom at 21.” From here, though the album gets derailed by “Love Interruption,” relaxing the album into a trio of country inflected numbers, the nucleus of which is title track, which in spite of the name is an ironically lilting, pedal steel guitar-steered waltz into the honky tonk histrionics of “Hypocritical Kiss.” Here things start to take a more discernible turn for the personal.
Grandiose centerpiece “Weep Themselves To Sleep” is the standout track, a lavish and sweeping rollercoaster of Piano and bombastic interludes that underlies a violent morality tale. In spite of an acrimonious, in fact downright celebratory divorce, it’s still somewhat surprising to detect zinging barbs of bitterness in the lyrics of the likes of “Trash Tongue Talker,” and even the upbeat, swaggering, seeming swipe at Meg “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy.”
Blunderbuss manages what so many debut solo efforts fail to achieve in being a cohesive collection of intermingling songs with a common thread connecting them rather than the rag-tag assortment of cast-offs from previous endeavors with the odd gem thrown in to make up the numbers that we’ve come to expect — though the two tail-off tracks do initially seem a little extraneous in such illustrious company, the Led Zeppelin theatrics of album closer “Take Me With You When I Go”‘s coda deftly rounds the record off.
Ultimately White produces nothing musically new, but what he does is deliver an album whose textures and depths continue to reveal themselves on repeat listens, further perfecting the same updating of classic forms that a million Black Keys albums could only dream of achieving, and cementing his position as incumbent custodian of Rock `n’ Roll.