Highlights: Missing Pieces, Sixteen Saltines, Freedom At 21, Love Interruption
While there’s no denying that riff or the melodic prettiness of, say, “Truth Doesn’t Make A Noise” (among other things, of course), I’ve never been a particularly huge fan of The White Stripes’ garage-y and hipped-up take on blues. Don't take me wrong, De Stijl and Elephant are both strong albums, we all pretty much agree on that, but it’s as if something was always missing from that raw, self-consciously cool sound. I believe it was the songwriting. The kind of songwriting you could get your teeth into.
So is there that missing spark on Jack White’s feverishly anticipated debut? Well, it's both yes and no. Blunderbuss certainly sounds more interesting, more full-bloodied than any WS album; its arrangements are rich and its songwriting is so much deeper than that of Icky Thump that the first listen is a lot more joyful than it probably should be. And yet, try as I might, I just can’t get too excited about the actual tunes. Especially some of the album's slow and mid-tempo material (for instance, without that melodious line “On And On And On” would just be faceless and dull).
I guess it’s a good thing that Blunderbuss is so diverse stylistically. Yes, it is mostly rooted in blues (White would be pleased to hear that), but there’s a difference between the slow and mellow title track and that rip-roaring guitar work of “Weep Themselves To Sleep”. Interestingly, my favourite songs are all concentrated at the very beginning: “Love Interruption” is an intense ballad, all broken knees and raw emotions; there’s great heavy riffage throughout “Sixteen Saltines”; the funky “Freedom At 21” makes wonderful use of the playful arrogance of White’s voice. All good stuff. And even if some of these tunes don’t sound too inspired/inspirational, there are certain instrumental touches and delights to make up for that. Like that lovely piano opening “Hypocritical Kiss”…
No problem with giving this one a good 7. I just honestly can’t expect Jack White to record an album much better than this. He is talented, he is audacious, he knows his music – however, the bottom line would be this: he is not a great songwriter. He just isn’t.