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Jack White - Blunderbuss LP
Third Man Records
Jack White leaves such an indelible stamp on any project he touches that a solo album from him almost seems unnecessary: nobody has ever told him what to do. He's a rock & roll auteur, bending other artists to fit his will, leading bands even when he's purportedly no more than a drummer, always enjoying dictating the fashion by placing restrictions on himself. And so it is on Blunderbuss, his first official solo album, arriving five years after the White Stripes' last but seeming much sooner given White's constant flurry of activity with the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, Third Man Records, and countless productions. Here, he's once again placed restrictions on himself but they're not quite as clearly defined as they've been in the past, as when he's gotten great dividends by working with a limited palette. All the restrictions are entirely of a comforting variety: he's abandoned the primitivism of the White Stripes, something that came easily with Meg White bashing away on the drums, and has chosen a quieter, polished route, rotating in different musicians for different tracks. Jack still pulls out some standards from his bag of tricks -- clenched blues explosions, squealing guitars, and a cool breeze of electric piano -- but musicians matter and this bunch of pro players tightens and softens his attack (sometimes to its detriment, as on a clumsy cabaret version of Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'"). When Blunderbuss gets furious, it's hard not to miss the chaos Meg brought to the Stripes -- with her at the drums, "Sixteen Saltines" would fly off the rails -- but it's a mistake to think of this album as a professionally produced White Stripes record as it relies as heavily on ideas White explored on his handful of old-timey acoustic cuts and the '70s guitar rock of the Raconteurs. If it resembles any Stripes album it's Get Behind Me Satan, the dark, odd 2005 set written in the wake of a breakup and filled with songs of paranoia and recrimination. This too is a divorce album with every song concerning love gone wrong, yet it's easy to ignore all the pain roiling underneath because Blunderbuss plays so sweetly, its melodies easing into memory and its surface warm and pleasant. Contradictions are nothing new for Jack White but he's never been as emotionally direct as he is here, nor has he been as musically evasive, and that dichotomy makes Blunderbuss a record that only seems richer with increased exposure.