By Harry Sullivan (@radiohedge)
Jack White III (born John Anthony Gillis), Grammy awarded vocalist/guitarist in the White Stripes and The Raconteurs, drummer in The Dead Weather and king of the riff, released his debut solo album five years ago to this very day. Henceforth cometh the assessment of its musical impact on the industry in its half-decade life. This is instinctively a difficult release to review, as you can either judge it since it’s his first album as a solo artist or compare it to his twenty-five previous years as a musician. Anyhow, Jack’s songwriting ability we all know and love is evident throughout the LP, shown through his many influences in various genres from garage to gospel.
The opener, Missing Pieces, has a certain warmth to the vocals that doesn’t appear in his work with ex-wife Meg White and just has a cleaner production element than most of their work in general. That is not to say that the White Stripes weren’t influential, arguably popularising the riff-heavy power duo model that spawned successes such as The Black Keys and even Royal Blood, if anything it’s a compliment to White that he was able to do his own thing rather than trample on his band’s reputation.
The following track, Sixteen Saltines has Jack’s classic signature not-so-complex yet BELTING riffs filling your ears, and one of the biggest surprises of the album is the great Freedom At 21, which, along of one the best riffs to come out of some of Jack White’s work, has contained within it a drum beat so complex it is rumoured to be two separate drum tracks layered over one another. The title track Blunderbuss is a significant break in energy in the album – it’s almost a waltz – illustrating some variety to Jack’s sound that he didn’t find with Meg, especially instrumentally, with a healthy portion of strings running through the track.
Lyrically, however, the album is weak at points, with very little depth (literally stating the obvious on Hypocritical Kiss – I know every single thing that I said was true) and it seems Jack is too dependent on the riffs themselves to carry the album forward. The cleaner production and more varied instrumentation do little to hide the fact that there has been very little growth in Jack’s musical repertoire since his final release with the White Stripes five years previously.
Compared to his next album Lazaretto (released 2014), Jack’s work on this album is a mere building block towards it, with an album more coherent, and, not that it matters but, a better-looking album cover – it takes you to your third listen of Blunderbuss to realise that there’s a vulture with its wing over his shoulder, and the background is so blurry and monotone that it almost makes you not want to listen to the LP. TL;DR: his second solo attempt is more distinct in cover art and in sound. With this LP Jack White bares a lot of emotion that we haven’t seen before, but the album’s namesake, a large bored 17th century shotgun, is unfortunately not matched by the surprisingly small impact of this album – it was written to be played live, and does not do very much as a recording.