Jack White’s vintage 1965 Montgomery Airline might be famous for unleashing vicious torrents of minimal blues, but the man himself has always shied away from vile outpourings of resentment. Taking the role of the victim, White’s withering cry invariably conveyed despair while his towering riffs fostered a wealth of crushing sorrow and pent-up frustration. The playful “I’m Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman” was Jack White’s idea of a snide outburst, and practically every aspect of the singer’s personal life suggests that he’s just not the vindictive type.
White has turned divorce, normally a dank repository for residual resentment, into a joyous occasion. His first wife (Meg White) was taken on the road and turned into one of the world’s biggest rock stars via the White Stripes, while the failure of his second marriage to model Karen Elson was met with a celebratory party and a promise to remain “dear and trusted friends and co-parents”. It’s surprising then, that such a seemingly mature and level-headed lover would release an album as revengeful and scarred as Blunderbuss.
Far from cursing out his partner, the dejected White spends the majority of his first solo album struggling to understand the emotional cruelty of his former lover. The grand finale of opener “Missing Pieces” both sets the tone and gives the game away;
“Sometimes someone controls everything about you,
And when they tell you that they just can’t live without you;
They ain’t lying, they’ll take pieces of you,
And they’ll stand above you, and walk away.
That’s right, and take a part of you with them”.
Whatever has got into White’s psyche its clearly not Karen Elson. Unless the duo concealed a horrific breakup with an all smiles PR campaign, it appears White has used his divorce as an excuse to unleash a brilliant quasi-concept album. The wildly unpredictable Blunderbuss tells the story of the ultimate thoughtless lover who callously harms everyone around her. Musically, the album is just as exciting, and far more unhinged. After the Raconteurs-by-numbers riff riding blurt “Sixteen Saltines”, White dives off into whatever new territory he deems worthy of conquest.
The resentful “Freedom At 21” is loaded with scathing lyrical daggers (“No responsibility, no guilt, her morals cloud her judgment, smile on her face, she does what she damn well please”), as White seemingly auditions for a role in Rush. Condensing the noodling Canadian prog-rock stars’ oceanic sound, White distils all the drama of a twelve-minute epic into a towering three-minute onslaught. Elsewhere, White takes Little Willie John’s cheeky 1960 hit “I’m Shakin” and flitters between powerhouse blues, jittering paranoia and comic girl group ooohs. The manic end product is astounding; White’s façade appears to crack as a bitter bite and maddened hiss penetrate his sardonic howl.
Even when White recalls the delayed punchlines and airy sweeps of The Whites Stripes, on the understated “Hypocritical Kiss”, the star still manages to surprise with a thick bass line and wilfully dramatic piano flourishes. Even as he delivers a line as devastating as “You’d sell your own mother out, and then betray your dead brother with another hypocritical kiss” White appears to be revelling in a sense of kitsch playfulness.
The spirit that penetrated The Beatles’ The White Album appears to be alive in Jack as he both wholeheartedly embraces, and skilfully skewers, any genre he sees fit. The fantastically dramatic Latin drama “Weep Themselves To Sleep” is perhaps the finest example. The disturbing keys which defined Get Behind Me Satan are instantly recognisable, but a track this theatrically absurd could never sit comfortably alongside The Stripes’ ardent rock primitivism.
Blunderbuss is the most malicious assault of White’s career. He paints his ex-lover as a cruel and fiercely selfish monster, and yet, in keeping with White’s penchant for contradiction, the record features backing vocals from Karen Elson herself. It’s perplexing, but as “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep” daffily saunters into action with an old west meets vaudeville aplomb, it proves impossible to shake that Beatles comparison.
They may have been falling apart at the seams and consumed by personal rivalries and distrust, but they delivered an impossible to pin down LP that flittered been the harsh strictures of rock (“Helter Skelter”) and the fanciful pomp of unchecked imagination (“Bungalow Bill”). Blunderbuss is Jack White’s own White Album. It’s utterly bananas in the best possible way. Freed from the White Stripes and with the break-up bit between his teeth, we’ve finally uncovered the unhinged and unrestrained Jack White, and it was more than worth the wait. Loathsome vitriol simply shouldn’t be this much fun.
Buy If:You want to see a scornful Jack White disembowelling his ex-lover lyrically while having the time of his life musically - indulging every creative avenue imaginable.
Skip If:You never want to see prog-rock, vaudeville and saloon pop in the same sentence as Jack White.
Best Track:Freedom At 21
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