Critic. Critique. Criticism. The unwritten law of ‘who you should get to talk about a record’, if, indeed we intend ‘writing about music’ to involve at least one of those three words, is that if you’ve ever publicly declared your undying love for an artist, you’re not the most qualified to work out if their latest opus is any good or not. Yet, it’s those same people (uhm, me) who are the most excited to hear it. And hence, here we are: I’ve just been and listened to Jack White’s venerable beast of a debut . If you were brave enough to search my Twitter stream, you’d find several fingers’ worth of statements to that effect in the past month alone. If you’re a fan of ‘picking things apart’, shut your browser now. It ain’t gonna happen.
We’re in the old debating chamber at London’s County Hall (a room, a quick search tells us, which was last presided over by Ken Livingstone), with no more than two hundred others including – notably or otherwise, fellow Dead Weather Alison Mosshart, and her bandmate, Jamie Hince, songbooks in hand, staring at a projector screen on which Jack himself can be seen putting the record on. Cue a room staring at a record revolving.
‘Blunderbuss’ sounds just as you imagine it does: one gets the impression that if Jack were to produce any band in existence, regardless of their original sound, a little bit of his magic would shine through. So, in producing himself, he’s created the ultimate expression of this – unlike similar situations with others, the fact it sounds like Jack isn’t predictable nor lazy; it’s how it could only ever be.
It’s an album that – as Jack explains later (OH SHIT, WE GAVE THE GAME AWAY! JACK WAS IN THE ROOM ALL ALONG!) could only have been made following his move to Nashville. The country element is strong – particularly in both the title track and ‘Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy’, a song which both begins and ends via the sound of a music box. Elsewhere it’s the obvious (blues, a dash of gospel), and on personal highlight ‘I’m Shakin”, 50s rock ‘n roll; lyrical references abound amid shuffling drums, doo-wop backing vocals and handclaps – it’s no wonder he’s citing production of Wanda Jackson’s album (2011’s ‘The Party Ain’t Over’) as a major shift in his work pattern. This one’s got to be a direct result.
There’s even time for a smattering of jazz, as closer ‘Take Me With You When You Go’ begins somewhat comically, circus-esque piano continuing a dreamlike theme (deliberate, one would imagine – it permeates preceding track ‘On And On And On’ and comes from the one before that, ‘I Guess I Should Go To Sleep – the clue’s in the name) until those signature guitars appear, stomping around and getting heavy: it’s one hell of an album closer.
It’s one hell of an album. An album that – as nobody should be surprised – is definitively of two halves, and undoubtedly designed to be listened to as such: the epic ‘Weep Themselves To Sleep’ couldn’t help but feel like the end of Act One.
Act two is, as we gave the game away earlier, a conversation with Jack. Or, specifically between Mayor of Lambeth, Councillor Christiana Valcarcel and Jack. A conversation which, between theatrically flirtatious exchanges, declarations of “you’re a genius!” (from her, to clarify) and an insatiable thirst for knowledge on his previous career (her, again), brings the only part of the whole event that’s less than perfect. On being asked if he’s missing being in a band, he answers “I’m still in two bands”. That’s two, just two.
1. Missing Pieces
2. Sixteen Saltines
3. Freedom at 21
4. Love Interruption
6. Hypocritical Kiss
7. Weep Themselves to Sleep
8. I’m Shakin’
9. Trash Tongue Talker
10. Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy
11. I Guess I Should Go to Sleep
12. On and On and On
13. Take Me with You When You Go
‘Blunderbuss’ is released on 23rd April 2012 via Third Man Records/XL Recordings.