Jack White does not think love lifts him up where he belongs. If the tracks on White’s first solo album are anything to go by, love will break your will to live and eventually crush you beneath a spiked heel. The women in Jack White’s songs are violent, amoral, manipulative, cruel succubi out to ruin his life – and he loves it.
When news of the final split of the White Stripes broke in early 2011, the collective wail from music fans could likely be heard from the moon, but on Blunderbuss, we are rewarded with a fresh fix of the fuzzed- out guitar and shrieking vocals.
Cast your fears aside, Blunderbuss is excellent. In parts it remains faithful to the garage rock of White’s earlier work, but also dips into early rock’n’roll territory with a whole lot of blues piano and a little slide guitar thrown in for good measure.
He gets most of the rocking angst out of his system with ‘Sixteen Saltines’ and ‘I’m Shakin’’. For the rest of the album, White’s inimitable guitar work takes a back seat to a host of piano-led tracks like ‘Hypocritical Kiss’, ‘Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy’ and ‘Trash Tongue Talker’ that explore his softer, less raucous side. Yes, he has one. The gentle title track, ‘Blunderbuss’, goes full country, which was an inevitable step considering White is now based in Nashville, where he produced Time Out darling Lanie Lane’s single, ‘Ain’t Hungry’.
He goes back to basics with ‘Freedom at 21’, a simple, driving rock song and then follows it up with 'Love Interruption’, which in spite of some pretty macabre imagery, manages to be surprisingly tender, helped in no small part but the beautiful, dusky vocals of Ruby Amanfu and some well-placed clarinet. There is little to no romance to be found in White’s outlook on love – brutality and destruction are more the order of the day – but somehow he makes being gutted, run over and having your fingers slammed in a door sound like a profound declaration of devotion.
White takes a final bow with ‘Take Me with You when You Go’, looping full circle back to fuzzy guitar solos and close female backing vocals, but kept light with just a touch of country fiddle.
Now that he is out on his own, Jack White is sampling the full buffet of genres, taking the bits he likes and turning them into a compelling musical cocktail.
Blunderbuss is out now through Sony Music.
Jack White plays the Hordern Pavilion, Thu July 26, and Splendour in the Grass, July 27-29.