Blunderbuss, the first full-length solo album by indie garage rock poster boy Jack White, certainly has a fair amount of hype to live up to. A career as prolific and illustrious as White’s is rare among today’s plastic imitation music industry. As a high-profile member of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, he has carved an artistically unique name for himself in an age of bland, unimaginative pop hits.
While White’s signature style is present in droves on this album, this is perhaps the first time that it has been allowed to flourish to its fullest potential. Longtime fans will no doubt notice a lot of similarities in lyrical style, chord progressions, and guitar sound to the White Stripes’ catalogue. At times, these commonalities border on self-plagiarism, but the album is enough of an evolution from its predecessors to avoid being bogged down by such instances.
Despite the first few songs sounding a bit like leftovers, there are really no bad tracks on this LP (though there are a few standouts). “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is probably one of the least typical for White, featuring a wonderful jangly acoustic guitar/mandolin counterpoint running for most of its duration. “Take Me With You When You Go” is a jazzy number in 6/8, with some incredibly rich vocal harmonies, a simmering organ vamp, and a slightly distorted jazz violin lead.
The additional instrumentation and creative expression on Blunderbuss is certainly memorable. Will it go down in the annals of music history as White’s greatest achievement? Honestly, it’s really a toss-up at this point. Listeners may feel that this is White’s “Sergeant Pepper” or “Rubber Soul,” being that he has eschewed the stripped-down garage rock instrumentation for a more layered, intricate sound. On the other hand, perhaps some will find White has abandoned his garage roots to too great of an extent.
The sound of this record could easily be labeled as “retro,” but that wouldn’t really do it justice. While keeping a firm grip on the tried-and-true “realness” of mid-20th century production and instrumentation, everything is crisp, well mixed and blended excellently, and overdubs and analogue sound manipulation are used sparingly to maximum effect.
Blunderbuss is definitely a record worth owning, whether you are a White Stripes fan or not. At the very least, it is a reminder that true American rock music is not completely lost to sterile corporate radio, and at the most, it is an incredibly varied and entertaining artistic romp through the mind of a madman with a guitar.