Album: Jack White, Blunderbuss (XL / Third Man)

 

Usually, when a team player strikes out on a solo project, it's a fair bet that the project, volitionally or not, will reveal more of the player's inner workings, allow a glimpse of their soul or spirit.

Jack White has played for so many teams recently, often simultaneously, but in all of them you never really doubt who's wearing the skipper's armband, even when Jack's behind the drumkit – the musical equivalent of the goalkeeper-captain – but even so, Blunderbuss does seem more personal than usual.

The latent violence of the title is apt. Though named White, Jack has often walked in noir-ish shadows: his label and Nashville studio are both named after The Third Man, and he owns guitars decorated with likenesses of 1940s vamps Rita Hayworth and Veronica Lake.

And on Blunderbuss, he's stumbled into some nasty business. These are songs of ruthless temptresses and treacherous men, of uncontrollable desire and unbearable guilt. One girl's character is succinctly summarised as "lipstick, eyelash, broken mirror, broken home": six words and a world of pain. And as another tramples over his affections, "no responsibility, no guilt or morals cloud her judgement". Then again, Jack's own inclinations may dovetail smoothly with hers, as he admits, "I want love to roll me over slowly, stick a knife inside me, and twist it all around." Ouch!, as consenting adults sometimes get to say.

When he's not being lashed by cruel love or dreaming of forbidden liaisons, White's striking out at backbiters, hangers-on and hypocrites. His sense of morality is as stringent as Philip Marlowe's, albeit occasionally as warped as James Ellroy's – as in the bitter blend of romance, neurosis and violence staining lines such as, "The tame can't shake the reins of demonising brains that mean to kill them." Small wonder that he should end up, in "Take Me with You When You Go", worried about whether, in sating his own desires, he might be harming someone else. This is true noir territory, as emotionally twisted as a James M Cain plot, if not quite as fatalistic.

The only discordant note struck on Blunderbuss is the complaint, in "On and On and On", that there are people around Jack who "won't let me become what I need to: they want me the same". Well, all I can say is they're not succeeding – few modern musicians have the freedom and diversity he enjoys here, switching freely between instruments as required, on material ranging from the rolling R&B electric piano of "Missing Pieces" to the brusque guitar riffs of "Sixteen Saltines" and "Trash Tongue Talker", from the lumbering barroom waltzes "Blunderbuss" and "I Guess I Should Go to Sleep" to the gospel swing of his cover of Little Willie John's "I'm Shakin'", on which he sounds uncannily like Robert Plant in full Zep splendour.

On "On and On and On" itself, he conjures up an arrangement of whining pedal steel, treated guitar motif, and piano played through a Leslie speaker – hardly the work of one being forced to restrict his approach. But then, down those mean streets must walk a man who is not himself mean, particularly with regard to musical imagination.

DOWNLOAD THIS Missing Pieces; Sixteen Saltines; I'm Shakin'; Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy

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