Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jack White returns to the fore with ravishing music history lesson

It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Jack White isn't looking to kiss anyone's ass, but that won't stop him from diving into some of the most magnetizing sounds of eras gone by. Since the last White Stripes album in 2007, White has been laying low with a few albums from The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, but this marks his first major recorded release since announcing the end of the Stripes.

 The aptly named Blunderbuss hits you square in the chest with a compelling blend of country, blues, folk, and rock and roll. But he isn't about to let us forget he has a few of his own tricks up his sleeve. Album opener "Missing Pieces," for example, is carried entirely on the strength of his own charisma and magnetizing personality, and sounds like no one but White.

It opens with a quirky keyboard pattern, and ends with White making a rather unusual metaphor for the ending of long, meaningful relationships. This continues into one of the album's singnature pieces "Sixteen Saltines" which highlights White's goofy side while bringing back the heavy garage rock sound championed by The White Stripes.

Then White throws another changeup in the form country/folk ballad "Love Interruption," which seems destined to be one of the year's most buzzed about singles. The lyrics are notable here; specifically, White has a sideways way of explaining things that appears a bit quirky at first. "Love Interruption" opens with this line:

"I want love to
Roll me over slowly
Stick a knife inside me
and twist it all around"

It might be hard to see what his point is at first. Later, it becomes clear he's talking about the breakdown of love and the devestating after effects. He describes things in ways that probably wouldn't occur to the average person, but once you see where he's going it's tough to think of a better way of putting it.

As the album progresses, it feels increasingly like White is trying to pay homage to the rich musical heritage of America and the UK. The title track, which prominently features steel pedal, is probably worthy of the top spot on the country music charts. The swaggering blues of "I'm Shakin" sees White all shook up, while "Trash Toungue Talker" is a tribute to rock and roll, following in the tradition of greats like Little Richard and Jerry Lee Louis.

There's also a pretty noticeable Beatles influence found on the album's back nine. "Hip Eponymous Poor Boy" is a shuffling 70s folksy rock song which is so faithful you might swear it was Paul McCartney on vocal. "I Wish I Could Go To Sleep" wouldn't sound out of place alongside The Fabs singles circa 1968, while "On and On and On" takes its cues from a different Beatle. It captures the quiet musing of a George Harrison Beatles song, while looking at the world with a similar type of exploratory spirit.

It all comes crashing down with "Take Me With You When You Go," one of the most eclectic pieces of music released in recent memory. It opens with some funky vocal harmonies complemented with fiddle, which sets up a buzzing Black Sabbathy riff and a totally fuzz covered guitar solo. All the while, White philosophizes about how making moves to help yourself can put someone else in a compromising position.

If Blunderbuss has any downfall, it's that perhaps it feels a bit safe. Any album that makes an overriding attempt to look back to past popular music styles is going to run the risk of not being terribly progressive. Based on its own merits however, everything White attempts he does beyond reasonably well. He connects his own personality into the sounds of past and present, giving the youth a solid reminder where the sounds of today sprung from.

Score: 87/100

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