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Monday, April 23, 2012

Jack White: Blunderbuss (Release Date: 4-24-2012)

        Jack White is a man with a past. The male half of The White Stripes is now 36 years old, right around 78 in Rock Star years, and any musical decisions that he makes in the present come pre-packaged with reminders of the past. Wether you're a Stripes enthusiast, or a proponent of one of White's many side projects (The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, etc.), the man is simply one of (if not the) most unmistakable voices in Rock over the last decade plus. At this point, he's going to have a tough time surprising anyone.

        Blunderbuss is smart enough to realize this, and while it doesn't exactly play by all of the guys' pre-existing rules, it certainly doesn't sound like a stretch for him, either. White appears less interested in sound than in the past; The White Stripes were a loud band, and The Dead Weather was/is/? even louder. It's not hard to see why such a talented song writer would turn the volume down from 11. Take opener Missing Pieces, which grooves along playfully before unleashing twin guitar and keyboard solos, both scintillating despite a relative lack of sound. It doesn't boast of the immediacy of certain Stripes classics, but bests many of them in terms of sonic depth and clarity. The rest of Blunderbuss largely follows suit.

        The less assaultive vibe of the disc's whole does have a primary defector. Sixteen Saltines could easily slot into just about any Stripes album; As a matter of fact, it already did, in the form of Elephant's The Hardest Button to Button. Self plagiarism is nothing new to White, who would probably prefer that you not listen to Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground and There's No Room For You Here in immediate succession, so that's something of a moot point. What's strange is that he decided to dust off that old progression on an album that's more in favor Southern, Rang-Timey stylings, as opposed to Saltines forceful crunch (pun intended). The second half of the album, in particular, has a Honkey Tonk swagger that feels no need to rush, or crank up the decibels. Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy proves that White can write a real ear-worm without so much as touching an electric guitar, and none of the three following tracks could exactly be called a rager. These are busier, more complicated compositions than we're used to from White; Credit to whoever was savvy enough to realize that depth, in this context, is far more important than power.

        It's a bit difficult to envision White releasing another classic album that could sit beside his Stripes efforts as an equal. We know too many of his tricks by now: Never again will it be a surprise when that gritty guitar solo is hiding just around the corner, or when Jack sings cryptically about his hatred for women before featuring female vocals on every other track. No one should be held to the standards to which White will likely be up against for the rest of his recording days, but that doesn't make him any less of a great song writer. Blunderbuss sees old Jack trying out a few new tricks, gingerly tipping his toe into the water, discovering what this whole, 'solo career,' business is all about. Its a rock-solid listen, front to back, but more than that, it bodes well for the future. White doesn't need to reinvent himself for anyone, he only has to keep making terrific music. Mission accomplished.

Grade: B+

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