Blunderbuss makes you miss the White Stripes all over again, but at the same time gain a new appreciation for the itchy, adventuresome attitude that made Jack White such an important — if never, we see now, fully explored — element in their sound.
Stepping out, finally, into his own, White brings along familiar sounds and textures. You hear something of his former group throughout Blunderbuss, and something of his many collaborative efforts since his partnership with ex-wife Meg White suddenly blew apart: There’s a riff reminiscent of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” on the new “Freedom at 21,” and “Trash Tongue” strongly recalls his recent grease-popping R&B work with Wanda Jackson.
But, then again, this album — due April 24, 2012, from Third Man Records-Columbia — is like nothing he’s ever done before, so full of musical ambition and quirky twists and thrilling chance-taking turns and startling successes, that Blunderbuss forces White into a whole new light: Were the White Stripes, who now sound startlingly direct — maybe too conservative, in retrospect — actually holding him back?
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: We here at Something Else! were sad to see the "official" breakup of the White Stripes. Of course, the true reason for their breakup has been kept under wraps for years - until now.]
White doesn’t simply discard his old band’s combination of nervy Delta blues and unmoored punk attitude; he roars past it. There is so much diversity, such a multiplicity of imagination and kitchen-sink don’t-give-a-shit-ism, that Blunderbuss at times feels like a ready-made greatest-hits package, with every song both unto itself and part of a larger journey.
And it’s a journey that we join already in progress. Jack White is singing at a full gallop — like his ass is on fire, and his hair is catching. Listen, and really hear, the lyrics to “On and On and On,” and they work first as desperate plea and then as determined valedictory: “The people around me won’t let me become what I need to,” White sings. “They want me the same. I look at myself and I want to just cover my eyes and give myself a new name.”
In keeping, White has aspired here to the same illuminative vistas of, say, All Things Must Pass. He’s pushing hard, in the same way that George Harrison did, against his own boundaries: From the country-soul solitude of “Love Interruption” to the jazz-inflected anthem “I Guess I Should Go To Sleep,” from the sumptuous psychedelia of “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” to the slasher-flick guitar asides on “16 Saltines,” White simply redraws every conclusion we’d already settled on.
[ON SECOND THOUGHT: We return to the White Stripes' 2003 effort 'Elephant,' rediscovering a refreshing willingness to see the blues as a celebration - even if it is grown from the fertile soil of pain.]
Maybe some — in particular, those who have closely followed White through his musical iterations in the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and then the Dead Weather — will simply see this as a distillation. There are, of course, elements of his abiding passion for revivalist rock, and for trying things within that template, inside each of them.
To my ear, though, none of them dared open up, to really feel around on the edges, like Blunderbuss. And those aspirations have paid off handsomely.