What is it about Jack White? He blazes a trail where others follow, he captures the moment and he is always ten yards in the lead. On "Blunderbuss" his debut solo album all elements of White's recent past are to found with recognizable snatches of the White Stripes, The Raconteurs and his slightly less successful recent outing The Dead Weather. But White is not standing still, far from it since "Blunderbuss" is an incredibly varied album ranging from huge riff heavy hard rock anthems like "Sixteen Saltines" to the breezy jazzy pop of "Hip (eponymous) poor boy". More than this like Dylan's "Blood on tracks" the themes of break up and divorce runs through this album like a fault line and informs the lyrical preoccupations of many of the songs.
It is true that White's split with British model Karen Elson seems amicable enough with the couple holding a party to celebrate the "making and breaking of the sacred union of marriage," and indeed Elson does some background vocals on three of the songs here. Yet in the first half of "Blunderbuss" in particular White does rally against unhappy domestic predicaments, collapsing relationships and at one point the perfidy of women. You sense as the Americans politely put it that he has "issues" some of which are dramatically captured in the opener "Missing Pieces". While it is possibly the most White Stripeish song on the album its also has a strong confessional bent as White at one point muses that "When someone tells you they can't live without you, they ain't lying/ They'll take pieces of you and walk away." albeit within the confines of a killer song exemplifying him at his absolute best. On "Freedom at 21" it gets even nastier with a greasy rolling riff which he must have held back from the Raconteurs and a rally against internet trolling where he stingily rebukes the perpetrator with the words "she don't care what kind of wounds she's inflicted on me/ she don't care what color bruises that she is leaving on me". Its not all bitter and twisted however, far from it. The lovely title track "Blunderbuss" is almost a Robert Plant like lament underpinned by a wordy story, gorgeous piano lines and violins which conjure up echoes of another Dylan album namely "Desire". "Hypocritical kiss" is one of the best songs White has written in quite a time and it rolls along underpinned by strong melodic piano lines and shows his complete mastery as a songwriter. It wouldn't be Jack White however without a nice blast of garage rock and nod to the Blasters cover of the Little Willie John standard "I'm Shakin" is completely nailed. Equally "Trash Tongue Talker" whilst breaking no new ground is a beautifully dismissive song dripping venom and owing a large debt to James Booker. Other highlights include the dark acoustic ballad `Love Interruption' which combines White on a husky duet with Ruby Amanfu. Perhaps the two most distinct songs are kept until last not least the Beatles like dark pop of the brilliant "On and On" and finally the very funky "Take me with you when you go" which at the songs mid point breaks out in a pulsating sing-along and a fitting conclusion to an excellent album.
Uncut has recently proclaimed "Blunderbuss" to be the obvious successor to "Get behind me Satan" the White Stripes fifth album and it is true that piano dominates as much as guitar on this album. White has also in an interview within the same magazine played down the confessional element to the album but he can be a contradictory cuss who regularly warns that many of his public statements are pure invention. What is certain is that "Blunderbuss" is a sure fire success, an album which is surly, aggressive yet calm and likeable in equal measures. White has bestrode the music scene like a colossus over the past ten years and the truly excellent "Blunderbuss" will reinforce this benevolent dictatorship.