Jack White is jaded. It's glaringly apparent — strewn like dead leaves on the dirty grounds of his solo debut, Blunderbuss — and goddamn, is it refreshing. In a modern rock landscape fertile with lukewarm attempts at rugged roots rock, White has crafted a shamelessly fun and whimsically varied record that manages to be more of the same, not care that it's more of the same, and, in turn, becomes transcendentally different because of it. In other words, Blunderbuss is a classic right off the bat.
That's not to say Jack White isn't a different man since he last donned the primary singer-songwriter hat with The White Stripes a toddler-age ago. Blunderbuss definitely boasts the same bombast and sugar-high energy White fostered with the White Stripes, yet it feels more conscious, more tapered this time around. The choice of "Love Interruption," the sole bare bones acoustic track off Blunderbuss, as the first single seems like an obvious nod to White’s newfangled comfort and confidence with this role.
As is all too often the case, musical comfort and confidence can be a lethal plague on the artists’ finished product. White succeeds by plastering this common fault with a hard lyrical layer of jilted realism and lovesick sentiment. When he waxes poetic at the end of the opening track, "Missing Pieces" — "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 / And they'll stand above you and walk away" – it's hard not to think these words are coming from anywhere but a very real place in White's addled psyche.
Sonically speaking, Blunderbuss works as a joyride down American rock history road melded with the novel weirdness that made the White Stripes and The Raconteurs so notable. "Weep Themselves to Sleep" takes cues from the arena-blasting British rock of the '70s with a tinge of barroom piano blues layered in White's frenetic musings on (once again) the ugly perils of romance and relationships. "I'm Shakin'" sounds almost comical at first before turning into a devilishly fun call-and-response Delta blues-y ode complete with a soulful gospel choir, and "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" has a sense of merriment and whimsy that immediately brings Jethro Tull's Thick as Brick to mind.
There's an overriding sense of conscious comfort and familiarity with Blunderbuss. White knows he might be a rock icon, but not a god, and makes no attempt to prove such an ostentatious claim. Blunderbuss is Jack White at ease, if cool, strange and vengeful ease. (Out April 24 via Third Man Records)
4 and 1/2 Stars