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Album Review

by Jack White

Third Man Records

Review Date
May 3rd, 2012
Reviewed by
Courtney Sanders

Jack White's first solo album Blunderbuss systematically presents his personal influences and thematic observations, which - perhaps most importantly - allows us to contextualize his back catalogue.

At first I thought Jack White was wearing a women's bonnet in the monochromatic, film-like cover image of his debut solo album, Blunderbuss. Then I realized it's a vulture: yep, Jack White is wearing a bird on his head. On the eighth page of the liner notes he also wears a peacock - a white one - as a hat. What do the ornithological representations mean, on an album named after a gun? I really don't know. But, considering Blunderbuss lays bare the thematic and stylistic considerations that have shaped a two-decade career, he's welcome to his bird-as-hat mystique.

Speaking of birds, as in women (and hopefully not as in vultures): White is obsessed with them, particularly the kind who either never wanted him or don't anymore. From the naïve ('Why Can't You be Nicer to Me', De Stijl), to the obvious ('Fell in Love with a Girl', White Blood Cells), to the sadistic ('Treat Me Like Your Mother', Horehound by The Dead Weather), he unravels his complex relationships with them via lyrics and Blunderbuss only cements this, with particular reference paid to ex-wife (and back-up vocalist on the album) Karen Elson.

On 'Hypocritical Kiss' we're introduced to the end of a relationship (his divorce from Karen Elson?) from his perspective as an underdog, through this: “I know that you're mad at me / But if you're thinking like that you'll see you're mad at you too.” A dogmatic working class-ness comes into play in the next line (“You don't know how to read the look on my face / When I say 'Yeah I've read that book, too”); the irony of such clever rhetoric dismissing intellectualism isn't lost. These dual observations - the blue collar beginnings (and his mythologizing of them) of White's career and his encounters with the fairer sex - extend across Blunderbuss. From anti-anthem 'Weep Themselves to Sleep' (“Men who love the girl / Who try to hold their hands behind them”) to the nihilistic single 'Love Interruption', White's upholstering days in Detroit - rolled shirt sleeves, never getting the girl and all - are prominent. That the title track is about a couple, and that Blunderbuss describes an 18th century gun is probably telling too, no?

Speaking of people White can't have: Rita Hayworth, she's dead. Like 'White Moon' on Get Behind Me Satan, his cover of Little Willie John's 'I'm Shakin' is his latest ode to the 20th Century film star. He's also dressing his all-female band in Hayworth-like white fifties dresses for live performances of 'Love Interruption', which - moreover - makes him look like a monotonic predator surrounded by ephemeral spirits: probably the point. If Rita Hayworth is a talisman for the 'Have Nots', she's also representative of White's love of fifties rock 'n roll. With nods to Bo Didley (“I'm Bo Didley”), Peggy Lee's 'You Give Me Fever' and choral back-up vocals, 'I'm Shakin'' is an unapologetically throwback cover choice.

Blunderbuss packages White's observations up simply, arguably because his deft wordsmithery - including his ability to fit an unfathomable amount of relevant words into one sentence - is his songs' most attractive feature. But Blunderbuss - as the bird-on-head suggests - is sonically random. 'Take Me With You When You Go' (with ex Karen Elson as back-up vocalist) starts as a school yard piano ditty only to devolve into a garag-ey assault, while 'Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy' is positively theatrical.

Jack White offers his tastes and preferences up on a plate with Blunderbuss and when you're done with his obsessive, eclectic tendencies you realize that perhaps a bird-on-the-head isn't at all strange, and if Jack White didn't wear said bird he wouldn't be Jack White.


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