Jack White (the third) has always gone in for theatrics. Whether it is the striking aesthetic of The White Stripes, the Beefheart flamboyance of The Dead Weather or the esoteric escapades of his solo work – a record that plays at 3RPM for example – the man knows how to entertain. Intentionally or otherwise his (pointedly) personal life is equally enticing: the much questioned sister/wife relationship with Meg White and the admission that he was married to Karen Elson on a canoe in the Amazon River, officiated by a Shaman. Accordingly “Blunderbuss” is a self-mythologizing romp through the Southern states. Here, the Detroit rocker has re-located; presenting himself as the quintessential Nashville troubadour, who just happened to hit record at his latest booze-fuelled jam.
The opening bars of the first track, “Missing Pieces”, sound vaguely reminiscent of an analogue alarm; a piano doing a respectable impression of a Nokia 8210. The refrain increases in intensity before sinking back into the past: a loose, rolling, bluesy groove. This era-clash is key to the release. White is clearly enthralled by the syntax of a by-gone age – his record company, Third Man Records famously touting the phrase “your turntable’s not dead” – but his perspective is unquestionably contemporary. Although his sentences are shaped by the 60s, the words he chooses are very much his own. This is blues informed by his own experiences; and he does his liquor-loving living in the 21st century.
This is particularly apparent on the cover of Rudy Toombs ‘“I’m Shaking”, the first track on the B-side (yes, “Blunderbuss” is studiously arranged for vinyl). It’s a classic bout of Southern boogie - complete with Gospel tinges – but is backed my belligerent guitars and a few, key lyrical adjustments (I’m pretty sure White’s replaced “hug” with “hump” in the line “I want to hug you with all of my might”; but wouldn’t want to make any false accusations).
The album unfolds with divergent continuity. White feeds off numerous sources, but remains true to his idiosyncratic sound, lending an admirable fluidity to the proceedings. “Sixteen Saltines” will satisfy the fret-board fanatics; all guitar pedals and explosive garage rock. Whilst “Freedom At 21” allows a driving, restless drum beat to unsettle the swaggering guitar, underscored by dirty swathes of re-verb and a snarling vocal line. If “Blunderbuss” is the document of a Nashville jam, “Love Interruption” is the sure-fire sing-a-long. Here, a simple melodic progression is adorned with soulful harmonies and some deliciously vicious lyrics ( “I want love to murder my own mother”). To push the analogy one step further “On And On And On” is the song played in the early hours, by the last left standing, to sooth the weeping drunk at the bar. Everything goes into soft-focus as the dream-driven waltz emerges.
There will inevitably be speculation regarding the bruised-and-broken lyrics, considering his recent divorce from Elson (“ Sometimes someone controls everything about you / And when they tell you that they just can’t live without you / They ain’t lying, they’ll take pieces of you / And they’ll stand above you, and walk away”). The confessional quality of the record lends validity to this supposition; but I would hold-back on judgement. In a recent interview, White stated: “when you're a songwriter you get to choose who narrates the tale . . . Sometimes you can confuse the listener”. On “Blunderbuss”, Jack White narrates the tale with furious conviction and an engaging dose of his well-worn theatrics. Although he’s not re-written the (song) book, he’s indulged its form whilst customising its torn and whiskey soaked pages: a triumphant debut solo album.