Jack White’s first solo album is basically what longtime followers would expect. But don’t let that turn you away from said effort, titled Blunderbuss. On it, White continues to expand his sound from its stripped-down roots in garage rock to a more rounded style of music.
Blunderbuss kicks off with “Missing Pieces,” a rocking number that reminds the listener of White’s previous endeavors as part of The White Stripes and does well to open things up. Here, White’s poetry is strong as he sings of separation: “Sometimes someone controls everything about you/And when they tell you that they just can’t live without you/They ain’t lyin’, they’ll take pieces of you.”
The next two songs are scalding reminders that White is recently divorced, as they express views of love that seem to consist of being trampled and tortured. “Sixteen Saltines” makes it clear that White believes he may just be better off without female companionship, or at least without a stiletto-equipped woman, with lyrics like “Spike heels make a hole in a lifeboat.” Meanwhile, “Freedom at 21” is a somewhat frightening picture of the 21st century woman who has mutilated and hurt White emotionally — gore and blood (hopefully) serve as metaphors.
White sticks to his guns musically on the first three tracks leading up until “Love Interruption.” However, the fourth track mixes things up quite a bit for the rockstar with moody piano, Nashville crooner Ruby Amanfu and even saxophones and clarinets. White appears to have moved past the pain inflicted in the opening tracks, as he and Amanfu sing of strong new resolutions. However, the images of violence at the hands of love remain: “I want love to roll me over slowly/Stick a knife inside me and twist it all around/I want love to grab my fingers gently/Slam them in a doorway/Put my face into the ground.”
The next few tracks all continue the trend of “Love Interruption” as White uses piano as much as guitar on the rest of Blunderbuss. It’s a new direction for White and an extension of the musical evolution of The White Stripes. The musical arrangements on the rest of the album begin to blossom in a way that 1998 White Stripes fans likely never anticipated, with stand-up bass, bluesy piano and vocal progressions and even the slightest bit of country twang invading White’s musical landscape.
“Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” may be the best example of White’s more varied musical attempts, with cheerfully rollicking piano bits and bright strumming, at odds with the lyrics. It works in a crazy Jack White sort of way, but old listeners who favor his harder rock will find themselves lost with some of the later tracks on the album. The last, “Take Me With You When You Go,” is one of the more interesting musical compositions on the album and a reminder that White hasn’t forgotten his roots.
Blunderbuss is a solid solo debut for White, and it succeeds in channeling his divorcée blues into a well-made and well-rounded album.
4 stars out of 5.