Jack White – Blunderbuss
Sitting in an East Village pizza place, the kind that comes attached to a DJ booth, I was passing a quiet spring afternoon when talk turned to Jack White. One of the dudes hanging out at the bar remarked on something or other, and out from the street came a declaration from some tattooed fellow in a wife-beater, the Stanley Kowalski of First and First:
“JACK WHITE SHITS MUSIC!”
Well, indeed. Hard to argue with that one. The man’s fertile creative consciousness processes everything in rock history and then some, transmuting radio waves from the ether and the fragile echo of chicken wire plucked from deep in the trash-humped heart of rural Americana into all manner of whip-smart, string-slinging, cave-stomping, twang-a-billying, post-modern hootenannying, vinyl-reviving, meticulously color-coded and thoroughly conceptualized product. He’s a giant among mortals. A mang among mens. In another age, perhaps he would have been Tesla or Charley Patton or Michael Jackson or Mondrian, but White arrived only in time to emulate them, creating his own neo-primitive, guitar hero synthesis of all that was badass.
I’ve never been quite sold on this guy, running around there like a dandy, shitting all that music. Who does he think he is? James Franco? But my problem is, I can never deny the guy, either. Some parts of his new solo album, one of his myriad post-White Stripes projects, feel pretty brilliant, although in ways that are non-life-changing. He’s really into a lot of jaunty, saloon piano, and sweet, Beatlesque layers of harmony, and groovy backup vocalists, and, as always, some garage-rock flashbacks with white bursts of guitar frag and manic rushes of syllables delivered in a scary falsetto (like the opening “Sixteen Saltines”). Blunderbuss doesn’t sound like it was meant to be some huge definitive statement, but more like the thing White felt like working on this month. He’s done amazing things for other artists, including Loretta Lynn and his own ex-wife, Karen Elson, and, of course, putting together the Dead Weather. With a summer tour looming and two bands (one male, one female) to back him, White has recorded a dozen tracks that should play out in lively fashion onstage. If they lack the totemic majesty and cold-veined shiver of the White Stripes at their most commanding, they do suggest that he’s having a ball amusing himself. And that’s no shit.