Jack White: Blunderbuss – review

(Third Man/XL)

As former upholsterer Jack White might tell it, there's no constancy to things any more. Furniture isn't built to last. Records aren't made in high fidelity. The only people giving great thought to colour schemes – pivotal to White – are interior decorators. And fidelity itself? Women are trouble and always have been, certainly on the records that White has been associated with throughout the past 15-odd years.

But in these rapidly churning times you might point to one constant: White himself. Has he ever made a bad record? You might argue the Dead Weather albums aren't the ones you'd turn a friend on to first, but they're not duds. As befits a man who once posed with a cricket bat on the cover of an album, White's strike rate is exemplary. This debut solo album from the former White Stripe, Raconteur and Dead Weatherman is yet another reliably great outing, full of intriguing plot developments, yet in faithful keeping with White's previous output.

The rattling "Sixteen Saltines" is basically the White Stripes's "The Hardest Button to Button" all over again, only even better now that it's sung in an angry falsetto. By contrast, one particularly dramatic piano tune, "Weep Themselves to Sleep", finds White flowing like a rapper, spitting out bits of indignant assonance as the tune rolls along. The amazing spluttering guitar solo sounds like dental treatment – treatment you'll want to have again and again. At one point on album-closer "Take Me With You When You Go", it seems as if White is playing a Jimmy Page guitar line on a very fat kazoo.

White may be artistically constant, but this recent divorcé's songs are obsessed with inconstancy. He spends the first half of the album dwelling on womankind's perfidy, casting himself as the suffering plaything of a series of vicious femmes fatales. Love has often been a pugilistic game in White's mind but this time, on track one, he's actually losing limbs.

It gets uglier from then on in. "Freedom at 21" is particularly gruesome, a lone rattling drumkit and a stark snaking guitar line witnessing how White's poor boy has the soles of his feet cut off. The woman ends up going to the police and accusing him of assault, when she's the one who's rubbed salt into his wounds. "She's got freedom in the 21st century," White sulks, his meaning not entirely clear. You'd think he might just nurse his injuries and give up on the whole business of coupling up. The intriguing single, "Love Interruption", imagines love as a series of extreme penances before declaring: "I won't let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me, any more."

None of this engrossing turmoil prepares you for the album's more whimsical, sweet-natured end. Jazz-tinged country? Don't mind if he does, on "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep". "On and On and On" is an eastern-tinged meditation whose repertoire-expanding spaciness feels genuinely novel for White, an artist more at home with starkness. This solo album's new colour scheme is a telling blue: the colour of bruises and possibility.

Contributor

Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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