When a musical genius goes solo, there are certain expectations in people’s heads about what the record will, or should sound like. And for a man who has provided our ears with hits such as Seven Nation Army, Steady as She Goes and Die By The Drop all with different bands, the pressure to deliver is even higher. Especially now fans expect to hear an honest piece of John Anthony Gillis’ soul. Jack White III and Blunderbuss, please step forward to be judged.
Lead single Sixteen Saltines already caused a buzz with punchy riffs and general rock n roll greatness you would expect from White, but the whole feel of the album is entirely different. It’s very deep-south and a lot more piano oriented than previous offerings. Most tracks have been taken down a notch too, and the whole record has a more chilled out vibe. There’s a nod to previous works, with Sixteen Saltines and Missing Pieces giving us the taste of garage rock we’re familiar with, but the whole album has merged into something new. There are touches of gospel, country and deep, deep blues. It’s still White, but maybe after a valium.
Opening track Missing Pieces has some great piano riffs and more blues than your average tube of Smarties, but it’s still lacking proper r’n’r. And Freedom at 21 sees White put on his rock n roll boots but forget to tie the laces as he gets halfway to a loud chorus and even an attempt at a guitar solo. I’m Shakin’ is a brilliant example of White leading us down the path to something different. Gospel infused with a lazy, bluesy drawl, Jack manages to compare himself to Bo Diddley – whilst rhyming it with shivery. But he just about pulls it off.
It’s not a bad album at all. In fact, it’s pretty great (would you expect anything less from White?). It’s just not all garage rock with loud verses and buried-in-your-head hooks that we have become accustomed to from White, but that’s no bad thing. In fact, I’m confident the choruses on most tracks are growers. There is no doubt about it that this album will be known as Jack’s divorce album (as both a divorce from Karen Elson, and his parting with White Stripe number two, Meg White), with all lyrics somehow impossible to disassociate with former wives and bandmates. There’s the good-natured goodbye vibe from Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy, but also the dark side of Missing Pieces which implies a former love chews Jack up and leaves him lying on the floor to be walked all over.
Jack White is simply one of those artists keen to stick his finger in every pie. He’s done the band thing, led with different instruments, and produced great, but equally unique, sounds from each band. And now Blunderbuss offers the closest thing we’ll get to understanding the real Jack White III. So it’s just as well this new pie tastes good, albeit in an unexpected way.