Jack White : Blunderbuss
People liked The White Stripes because people like rules. From the outset, the world-conquering Detroit duo aligned themselves to an intangible manifesto. Some aspects were upheld rigorously – the tri-colour aesthetic, the ruse of siblingry, the admonishment of setlists – and some were bent or broken. It’s easy to draw the analogy between White’s trajectory and that of his favourite film’s protagonist. Jacky White seems to fancy himself as a bit of a modern day Charles Foster Kane – skirting far closer to benevolence, of course (though his Third Man empire is presumably raking it in, you couldn’t label it nefarious in the slightest). Where Kane had his “declaration of principles”, White has his declaration of pretensions. Like Kane, White figuratively destroys his respective manifesto with his latest outing.
Blunderbuss is Jack White unleashed. The notion of a solo project suggests something reductionist in technique. But that’s far from the case here, with the instrumentation reaching above and beyond that of The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs, let alone The White Stripes later efforts. Having said that, the album is very much defined by White’s sonic idiosyncrasies. The monumentally simplistic riffs are all there, as are the frenetic bursts of patented searing solos. While White invariably cuts loose in the live setting, his studio-born solos are frustratingly truncated. Freedom At 21 builds and builds with an uncharacteristic drum loop, but the wildish impulses are kept in check with a brief, albeit blistering, guitar solo.
A penchant for heavily compressed guitar was first displayed on Get Behind Me Satan cut Blue Orchid, and carried over into The White Stripe’s final record. Here, it reaches a logical climax with Sixteen Saltines. The riff that makes up the song’s central nervous system contains an immeasurable density of guitar overdubs, resulting in the most dangerous-sounding work White has ever produced.
The dynamics of the record are kept in check, with each sonic blast balanced out with a down-tempo bawler – a style in which White is equally proficient. The title track mixes an incredibly goofy lyric sheet with heartfelt sincerity, and Trash Tongue Talker oozes with barroom swagger.
Just as White is armed with an arsenal of immediately distinguishable sonic elements, his lyricisms are just as steadfast in their subject matter. The character of Jack White presented on record is one perpetually mistreated by a gallery of women. The theme evolves into something far more explicit than what were previously conservative subtexts. White’s carcass is mutilated beyond repair many times over – in Freedom At 21 the femme fatale “cut the bottoms off my feet, made me walk on salt”, and album-opener Missing Pieces tells a Kafka-esque tale of ladyfolk gradually tearing his physical self apart piece by piece – all the while, White remains complacent.
Sexually, the pseudo-incestual undertones and necrophilia-like lust for long-dead starlets that peppered The White Stripes’ body of work evolves into something more visceral on Blunderbuss. The filthy riffs on Sixteen Saltines are complemented by sordid yelps of “she’s got a pink mailbox that she puts out front”, along with a rare Jack White drug allusion (“force fed forced meds 'til I drop dead”).
Hypocritical Kiss drips with as much disdain and vitriol as Dylans’ Idiot Wind, the question of “Who the hell’s impressed by you?” could well be a self-effacing introspective in the vein of Lennon’s Nowhere Man. Could it be a rare peek behind the curtain at the real Jack White (if there is such a thing)?
The White Stripes never really made any great albums (they were consistently good, but never great). Instead, they presented an enthralling array of concepts and an impeccable canon of generation-defining tracks.
Stripped of mystique self-made mythology (the biggest tell is the jettison of White’s long-standing suffix of “III” from his title), the new chapter of Jack White is surprisingly levelled. The aura of infallibility is well-deserved, and if he can get away with collaborating with Insane Clown Posse, this Charles Foster Kane is a long way from his demise.
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Best Track: Sixteen Saltines
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