has been one of rock music’s most exciting new voices of the last decade, but the breakup of his longtime band, the White Stripes
, left fans wondering what his future output would sound like. As his first solo album, Blunderbuss
, suggests, White doesn’t want to repeat his old duo’s blues-rock aesthetic. But at the same time, Blunderbuss
doesn’t entirely replicate the feel of the records from his two side projects, the Raconteurs
and the Dead Weather
. Awash in the different styles that White has always pursued -- rock, blues, country -- Blunderbuss
is instead a largely successful concentration of all his songwriting strengths.
The Best of All Bands
When the White Stripes announced they were closing up shop
in February 2011, there seemed little doubt that White would continue to be a prolific performer. After all, considering that the White Stripes hadn’t put out a studio album since 2007 and that White had focused on other bands, it was clear he wasn’t going to be tied down to the Stripes’ primal, blues-based approach. Not surprisingly, Blunderbuss
finds him both stretching his wings and sticking close to what he does well. These 13 songs contain a dash of the Dead Weather’s creepy menace, a large dose of the White Stripes’ lost-love laments, and a healthy serving of the Raconteurs’ elegant roots-rock. White isn’t trying to reinvent himself on Blunderbuss
: He’s trying to deliver another strong set of tunes unencumbered by the demands of bandmates.
Turning Down the Anguish
Perhaps what’s most fun about Blunderbuss is how it serves as one-stop shopping for White’s musical passions. If the snarling “Sixteen Saltines” could have been a White Stripes song, the soulful “Love Interruption” feels more appropriate for a Raconteurs disc. But the joy of Blunderbuss comes from its constant reminder that White no longer needs to compartmentalize his muse. Consequently, if you’ve ever longed for White to loosen up a bit, then this might be the record you most savor. Though emotional and dark, Blunderbuss also feels relaxed, confident and three-dimensional. A jaunty piano number like “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is a typical White track -- the woman of his dreams has crushed his spirits -- but the singer just picks himself up and sings a happy song. Heartbreak and despair are never far off, but White’s spirits remain high, even when he’s telling off an ex on “Hypocritical Kiss.” With maturity, his anguish is starting to feel more modestly scaled, leaving behind the petulance of his younger years.
Competing With Himself
may be a bit disappointing for those who only know the White Stripes’ music. If White’s side bands have allowed him to flex other musical muscles, they’ve also allowed him to relax a bit, which has resulted in material that has rarely felt as daring or striking. Blunderbuss
could never be described as lazy, but its weaker moments suggest that White is trying different styles for the fun of it, even if he doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to them. That’s especially true near the end of Blunderbuss
on “Take Me With You When You Go,” which dabbles in country and Exile on Main Street
, or “On and On and On,” a melancholy piano tune. At worst, the album is pleasant without being surprising. That’s hardly terrible, except for the fact that White’s music has been so memorable in the past because of its intensity and authenticity. As a result, anything that doesn’t entirely captivate can’t help but feel a bit perfunctory. You could say that Blunderbuss
allows White more freedom, but he can’t completely outrun his own past greatness.
'Blunderbuss' - Bottom Line
If there’s a little familiarity throughout Blunderbuss
, White’s musical dexterity is such that he can turn that into a strength. When he came onto the scene with the White Stripes, he was known for his ability to reinvigorate moldy old blues and rock clichés, making them fresh for a new era. In a way, Blunderbuss
is his attempt to re-energize what we already know and love about his music -- its passion, its tunefulness, its candor. From the beginning, he’s always been his own man. But now that the White Stripes are history, he’s put down stakes with a wide-ranging solo album that argues that no one band can define him. He makes a convincing case.
'Blunderbuss' - Best Tracks:
“Love Interruption” (Purchase/Download
“Sixteen Saltines” (Purchase/Download
“Hypocritical Kiss” (Purchase/Download
“Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” (Purchase/Download
Release date – April 24, 2012
Third Man Records/Columbia