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Jack White is a lone gunman wandering through a valley of zombies.
In a decade mostly characterized by organic instruments slowly giving way to more cutting and efficient electronics, White slings his Airline guitar like he’s the last man standing in a war against rock and roll. He’s been doing it for years, and his newest hit album, Blunderbuss, shows the pure essence of the guitarist that continues to change how our generation thinks of music.
White’s greatest testament to the form will always be his work with the White Stripes, an 8-year run of near perfect albums that infused his love of old blues records with the abrasive sounds of Detroit garage music. White has expanded beyond his most successful project to present other variations of his musical vision. His albums with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather have had varying results, while fun to listen to at the time, almost all of his work has completely diminished in replayability, bringing about the questions of what Jack White truly wants his image as a rock god to be.
As the decade dragged on and White’s fame increased, he tried harder and harder to break out of the borders presented to him with the Stripes, while at the same time tightening the band’s image to their literal 3-color confine. Now, after countless oddball engagements (inventing a new type of triple-layered LP, covering Mozart with Insane Clown Posse) White has finally released an album under his name that manages to synthesize all of his various personalities while still foraging a new sound for the wayward bluesman.
Opening with a track that represents what are usually the most boring qualities of White’s songwriting, (an obsession with jangle-country, a refusal to stray outside the most basic chord patterns), Missing Pieces manages to achieve a genuine swagger with the help of an electric organ driven melody and White’s eager commitment to his unique craft.
This is immediately followed by the most textbook Jack White song on the record, Sixteen Saltines, which sounds similar to the hard rock of the Raconteurs, but ironically feels somewhat unwelcome next to the temperate moods found throughout the rest of the album.
The volume is then turned down to a creeping level for the shuffle of Freedom at 21 and slowly burns back up to ferocity with the help of a stormy guitar riff and the glitchiest solo White has recorded to date. If Freedom at 21 is a hint at the kind of rocking out White is in the business of doing now, we, the listeners of Blunderbuss, are in very good hands. The production is crisp as day, the guitar work is skillful without being indulgent, and the focus on build rather than all-out assault shows a seriously mature step forward for White.
This leads to a mini-suite of acoustic based songs that unfortunately show an area where White appears to be overcompensating. Love Interruption sounds like a decent song could be hiding behind the production somewhere, however White’s aggressive chord strumming and the added touches of woodwinds and female harmonies strip the song of its emotional impact.
White doesn’t whip out the acoustic terribly often, but when he does the best results arise out of his commitment to minimalism, such as the tragic As Ugly As I Seem or the adorably sincere Hotel Yorba. While he does find moments of beauty such as on the slide guitars of title track Blunderbuss, it’s a lot easier to get into White’s head when he’s in the mood to have fun.
Fortunately there are enough lighter tracks like the wonderfully smooth closer Take Me With You When You Go and the bizarrely self-referential Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy to keep the album at an easy listening level.
While those wishing for another relentlessly fun album like any of the Stripes’ best work may be out of luck, Blunderbuss maintains a level of quality uncommon for artists with as large a back catalogue as White’s. His journeys into differing styles and approaches to delivery yield much more convincing results than they have on any of his previous records, which is a good sign.
If anything, Blunderbuss is a reminder that as long as those who say rock and roll is dead roam the land, White will be around to prove that sometimes all you need to make good music is a busted up 6-string and some soul.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.Goldner@colorado.edu.