The Oil Slick: What to Make of Jack White's Solo Album?
It seems fitting that my first review to be featured in my Oil Slick blog -- a blog about garage rock -- addresses a solo album by one of the genre's most prolific artists, Jack White -- even though he has already removed himself from the landscape his guitar helped carve.
Many White Stripes fans waited for White's new solo album, Blunderbuss, with hesitant anticipation. The enigmatic frontman tested the pop-rock circuit with The Raconteurs, sated his blues lust with the swampy fun of The Dead Weather, then produced an Insane Clown Posse song and got a divorce.
All of these signs point to what could be perceived as an incredibly artistic mid-life crisis. That a solo album was supposedly in the works only seemed to strengthen this perception.
Of course, after listening to the album six or seven times, we were fools to doubt. Blunderbuss is good — damn good. The shift of tones between the meandering, sweet folk of “Love Interruption” to the haunting abuse featured in “Freedom at 21” leave the listener off-balance and eagerly following through to the very end.
However, anyone hoping for anything more than traces of White's past will be sorely disappointed. He gets the only all-out fret-burner out of the way early, as the second track, “16 Saltines,” sounds like something cooked up when the White Stripes were in a jam session and Jack grabbed the sick organ he fell in love with while in The Dead Weather.
After that, things get much more introspective, with White singing about the traps of love — “I want love to turn my friends into enemies, and show me how it's all my fault," he sings in “Love Interruption” — while adding his ex-wife Karen Elston as a back-up signer.
Blunderbuss feels like Jack's way of putting all those garage rock hell-raiser expectations to a close, letting them go gently but firmly. He's no longer the screeching howl heard on “Ball and a Biscuit” and he's definitely a lot more jaded than the artist innocently crooning “I can tell that we are gonna be friends” way back in '02.
The album is a fantastic, if bittersweet, return for one of the greatest musicians doing their thing today, and although it lacks the all-out fury of a White Stripes gem, Blunderbuss is an album that demands multiple listens — probably in the same day.
John Grimley writes The Oil Slick blog on GuitarWorld.com.