You know nothing about Jack White until you’ve seen his divorce announcement.
You also know nothing about Jack White’s new album until you know what a blunderbuss is.
Now you get it. You really, really get it. Jack White is the kind of man that calls a party a “SWING BANG HUM DINGER.” And the kind of person that parties formally with friends, dancing and drinks when he gets a divorce…and the kind of musical artist that names his recently released solo album after a 17th Century shotgun.
The blunderbuss was the weapon of choice of the Puritans, you know, the European settlers that first came here to America. Incidentally, the blunderbuss was probably the first weapon used to keep black folks in line at Plymouth Rock. But I digress.
Let’s talk about Jack White and his new album.
I confess I’m a huge fan of the White Stripes. So all the art Jack White ever makes in my eyes will be judged from that window. Which is, too bad, really because according to Josh Eells’ brilliant recent New York Times article The White Stripes are never coming back.
According to Josh Eells:
“White said if it were up to him, the band would still be together. ‘I’d make a White Stripes record right now. I’d be in the White Stripes for the rest of my life. That band is the most challenging, important, fulfilling thing ever to happen to me. I wish it was still here. It’s something I really, really miss.’”
Welcome to the club, Jack…I’m just not sure that, like you, all of us should just blame Meg.
But a man has to go somewhere with all this anger, this disgust, this fear of the unknown, this rage, this envy, this pain, this disappointment, this existential Oedipus-like madness?
And so it goes with Blunderbuss: Jack’s Freudian, psycho-freakout of a rock album where he deals with Karen Elson, his supermodel ex-wife, and Meg White, his ex-sister/ex-wife/co-conspirator in the legendary rock phenomenon known as the White Stripes.
Here’s a couple pics from happier times:
Now compare those artsy sunny photos to these lyrics from his new folk rocking kiss-off known as “Love Interruption”:
I want love to: roll me over slowly,
Stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around.
I want love to: grab my fingers gently,
Slam them in a doorway, Put my face into the ground.
I want love to: murder my own mother,
Take her off to somewhere, like hell, or up above.
And I want love to: change my friends to enemies,
Change my friends to enemies, and show me how it’s all my fault.
And I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me
I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me
Yeah I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt or interrupt me, anymore.
Blunderbuss is full of songs like these, songs that bite and claw at the women in his life, madly, unapologetically, like a possessed character in a Tarantino film, eating vengeance every day, morning, noon and night.
For further examples, see the closing lyrics of the song “Missing Pieces,” which warn: “Sometimes someone controls everything about you/And when they tell you that they just can’t live without you/They ain’t lyin’, they’ll take pieces of you/And they’ll stand above you and walk away/That’s right and take a part of you with them…”
Wow. Or for another lesson see the song “Freedom at 21,” which urges the listener to watch these women, it’s the 21st century, they’re getting older, more mature, and well, they think they’re free now: “She don’t care what kind of wounds she’s inflicted on me/She don’t care what color bruises that she’s leavin’ on me/’Cuz she’s got freedom in the 21st century.”
You see you don’t have to be a Jungian scholar folks. Jack White is pissed off, mostly at the women in his life, and possibly his own failures as a man, his inability to force them to jump and just ask “How high?”
I get it. I’d be pretty mad too if I had one of the greatest bands in the world and my ex-wife took it away from me.
But truly all of this banter is inconsequential: the true question is does his anger rock?
Um. Yes, and no.
Simply put, there’s not much meat on the riffs here. If you take the loose jangling twang of the Beatles’ White Album, the slow LP version of “Revolution”–not the more popular, anthemic single version that rocks–you’d be close to the mood of the record. Jake White is singing the blues in Nashville at a piano, with a shotgun, instead of a guitar at his side.
That said, “Sixteen Saltines” does leap up and go for the jugular in a bashing White Stripes kind of way, and “Freedom at 21″ has the swamp menace of Led Zeppelin we’ve come to love in Jack’s work, with the welcome addition of the Prince-like funky falsetto that Jack effects at times. But outside those songs…the album is very, very light on riff recognition.
That isn’t to say there’s no distortion, no meat on the plate at all. It is to say that frequently the distortion is coming from the way a piano’s played, or a lyric’s delivered, instead of the volume or tone of a guitar.
All that aside, I continue to love Jack’s lyrics. Take the plaintive, melancholy moonshine lyrics from the album’s best song: “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”:
And I know that I can’t defeat you
Yeah but you go and worry now
I ain’t gonna preach to you
Well there go but I’ll be going right there with you
Yeah where every you be
You’ll be looking at me
But don’t get out of your shell
Put a bow in your hair
You might be making them stare
So leave the care to the poor boy,
The poor boy
And that’s the name of the game
Keep on staying the same
Ain’t nobody to blame
Nobody but the poor boy,
The poor boy
In some senses, this is the quietest, possibly most sincere music Jack White’s made since the White Stripes’s second album De Stijl. And I love that record, particularly songs such as “Truth Doesn’t Make a Noise,” a song that rings like a bell tolling, and rocks like a slow river rising in a Delta town.
The great thing is that there’s plenty of conflict in this new record, which anyone, from Aristotle to Shakespeare to Lester Bangs can tell you is a good and necessary thing for a dynamic listening experience. Overall, the songs rollick instead of roll, and revel in the dust after the gunfight instead of the thunder and smoke of the gunfight itself…
But there’s a great story, great drama there as well. Even if that drama comes as the gunfighter washes his hands and buys a new cute girl a drink, while thinking about the girl, the love of his life, he just killed.