Jack White is a busy man. He broke ground with The White Stripes, a two-piece rock n’ roll band with more energy than most four-piece acts. He quietly joined the members of The Greenhorne’s to form The Raconteurs, releasing two albums with them. Later on came The Dead Weather, a loud, grungy band with White on drums instead of guitar.
He guest starred on Danger Mouse’s Rome and produced Loretta Lynn’s hit country album, Van Lear Rose. All of this has happened in the past decade.
Now that The White Stripes have officially disbanded, fans have been waiting for White to make something more personal.
Attached to so many projects with other artists, no one could have guessed he would have time to make a solo album.
Jack White’s first solo LP, Blunderbuss, hit stores April 24, 2012. The album almost begs to not be taken seriously.
The title points to White as being foolish and full of mistakes. But this album is far from a mishap. And that’s exactly how the listener should experience it: as an album. The opening track, “Missing Pieces,” evokes memories of The Raconteurs and is upbeat and White delivers his lyrics with uppity enthusiasm. The listener is left with one of the few signature White guitar solos on the whole album.
From there, the album trails along at a wonderful pace. White sings about nothing new: girls, love, himself as a blunderbuss. The White Stripes-like guitar riff on “Sixteen Saltines” gives his fans exactly what they were missing. Unfortunately for them, though, it’s the only taste of it here.
The single, “Love Interruption,” breaks from the lyrical themes of the previous three tracks. White stops complaining in his lyrics and tells us exactly what he wants from love. This is the most well-produced track on the disc, and understandably so.
It was released in late January as an appetizer for the album to come. Realizing this, the listener could potentially feel ripped off. The best track off an album should never be the single. It leaves no surprises to encounter when consuming the full LP. Not until we reach the title track, “Blunderbuss,” do we encounter the true hidden brilliance of Jack White as a solo artist.
Here he finally gives us something new. It is a beautifully sprawling country song, its roots somewhere deep in Nashville, Tennessee, White’s new home and location of his studio.
The tracks that lead up to it are all a joy to listen to, and greatly benefit from their short length (no track on the album exceeds four and a half minutes), but they all sound familiar. Throw “Missing Pieces,” “Sixteen Saltines,” or “Freedom at 21” on a Raconteurs or Dead Weather album and most wouldn’t be able to spot the one that doesn’t belong. But then “Blunderbuss” hits and we realize White isn’t just recycling old styles. He truly is evolving musically. The only problem is that tracks like this pop up only every so often on Blunderbuss, and the rest is somewhat bogged down in familiarity.
The album coasts along on stylish little piano and electric guitar driven numbers impossible not to tap a foot to. Then White gives us “I’m Shakin’,” easily the most fun track on the album. This is what fans wanted out of a Jack White solo album. It’s funky, spacey, and slides along on a great little bluesy guitar riff. White sings about how a girl’s got him shakin’, sweatin’, dancin’, and feeling like Bo Diddley.
White’s humor, previously apparent on The White Stripes’ tracks like “Rag & Bone” and “Little Acorns”, shines in “I’m Shakin.’” Toward the end, in the best line of the album, he claims he is nervous, but pronounces it “noy-vus”. The listener can’t help but laugh while he dances the final few minutes of the song away.
As the album meanders to a close, a few tracks are fleeting, escaping the memory as soon as they end. White leaves us with a final stunner. Like “Blunderbuss”, “On and On and On” is White at his best in a solo context. It’s another country and blues influenced piece about White as a blundering fool. It’s quiet, eerie, and spreads its sonic atmosphere across a gorgeous soundscape. White does us a service by ending the album with a hard rock outro to “Take Me With You When You Go”.
Although Blunderbuss is wonderfully arranged and takes the listener on a musical journey worthy of repeats, something about it falls short or reaching its expected potential. Too many tracks remind us of White’s previous bands’ music.
When the album does step out from the familiar, it is a spectacle worthy of attention, but emerges too scarcely.
But Jack White has already established himself as a musician, producer, and songwriter. He could release as many solo clunkers as he desires, but he will not fade. Blunderbuss is a great album worthy of a listen and even your hard-earned $12.
But if The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather are White’s claims to fame, Blunderbuss seems more like a monument to the artist; mislabeled in a museum as we pass by and glance at it, not quite sure of its importance or purpose.
Jared Parisi can be contacted at