By Jordan Stier
It seems strange to say that a man with White’s reputation is releasing only his debut album. He is one of few to have played a Bond theme song, collaborating with Alicia Keys on “Another Way to Die” for 2008’s Quantum of Solace, and had the privilege of playing alongside The Edge and Jimmy Page on the film It Might Get Loud in 2009.
And between The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, the break onto solo stage have left many itching to hear what sound he would choose.
In the end, as many would have guessed, Blunderbuss is an exploration into the music that got White’s musical talent tingling from a young age – the blues.
From a young age White had been particularly influenced by Scottish-based Document Records, who produced tracks by legendary blues artists from Son House to Blind Willie McTell, both of which White has covered in his career. In fact, White covers Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin” in one of the new album’s most successful singles.
The record company through which Blunderbuss has been released, Third Man Records, was in fact founded by Jack White and aims to emulate Document’s blues-oriented sound.
“I’ve put off making records under my own name for a long time but these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name,” White told Rolling Stone magazine before the album’s release in April 2012.
And the songs are different from anything he’s ever done before. Very different.
Jack White is most commonly associated with the guitar, his sound being built on spine-shaking riffs atop a punchy bass line. However, this can be said for very few of the tracks on Blunderbuss.
Take “Love Interruption” for example, the first released single off the album. The song is built on a pleasant strumming, floating on the wailing sound of White’s voice, harmonised with the hauntingly beautiful warbling of Ruby Amanfu.
The majority of the album’s tracks however float on the tinkling of ebony and ivory. White shows his adapt ability behind a piano on tracks like “Hypocritical Kiss”, “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”, and the title track, “Blunderbuss”.
These sobering tracks give what Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone magazine calls an “awkwardly personal wrinkle to the White Stripes errant primitivism.”
But the heavily guitar-driven abrasive sound of his early career has certainly not been abandoned by White entirely. “Sixteen Saltines” is evidence of this, a single full of ‘woos’ and squeals that has The White Stripes written all over it.
The album’s balance of guitar and piano are, like his career, tribute to White’s diversity as a musician, as is the fact that he plays nine different instruments on the album, including Rhodes piano, bass guitar, drums and even his guitar case.
As a blues hard-core blues and Jack White fan, I myself love Blunderbuss. But not because of what is the same, but because of what is different.
Although the album is strongly influenced by classic blues, White’s unique ability to combine blues and rock, guitar and drums, wails and whispers, and countless other of his musical talents is what makes it special. Most of all, what makes the man a musical mastermind is his ability to combine loud and soft, with each offering his music equal importance.
Jack White is one of the most well-textured artists of all time, and Blunderbuss is one of the most well-textured albums of the new millennium. In my mind, it’s a must.