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Jack White, ‘Blunderbuss’ – Album Review

Third Man Records

The album title could not be more apt: a blunderbuss is a 17th century firearm, an early antecedent of the shotgun, known to be loaded with just about any matter of ammunition — bullets, kitchen utensils — and shot broad and short against the enemy. The eponymous thunder-gun is a perfect fit to Jack White‘s sinister-twee aesthetic, ‘Blunderbuss,’ his first record since ending both the White Stripes and his union to model Karen Elson, is thoroughly Jack White, and that is its greatest asset, as well as hindrance.

White channels Neil Young in the title track, all fragile pianos and recrimination; when he asks “Who is the hell is impressed by you?” is he shouting at the listener or at the mirror? Has the raven-haired Willy Wonka of our age grown frustrated? He’s always been the eccentric auteur, controlling the color scheme of White Stripes albums, installing roof microphones to hear the rain inside, calling his ex-wife his sister — but it seems that his self-referential orbit is growing a touch stagnant, as while this is no doubt a great modern rock record, there’s barely anything in these 13 tracks that we haven’t heard before.

The freshest sound for White is one of the oldest styles: rockabilly. White is a proper traditionalist, distrustful of MP3s, beloved of vinyl, and on ‘I’m Shakin” he goes ahead an names himself Bo Diddley — he’s so turned on, and turned out, by whoever the muse is, making a new kind of sweaty American standard. White’s perhaps at his best when in the mood of swaggering jilted lover: ‘Trash Tongue Talker’ features White nearly rapping, in a lover’s spate with a staggered drumbeat; ‘On and On and On’ exchanges the swagger for intimacy, soft and sweet, with a delicate shared whispers of a chorus and a mournful singing saw.

Love, loneliness, solitude, and identity are common themes here as they are in all of his: ‘I look at myself and want to cover myself and give myself a new name.’ The yearning in the quiet track, whose buildup is one of the highlights of the record, shares the listeners’ wish as well: that the esteemed Mr. White, gentleman of this or any age, would reinvent himself, would give us something new.

7 out of 10 rating

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