Sound — 7
Like most of us, my first taste of "Blunderbuss" came from White's release of "Love Interruption". As such my hopes were high that we were finally going to see some music from White that would be the proper substance to fill the hole left with the death of The White Stripes. Unfortunately, things did not pan out this way. While there are a handful of tracks that capture the energy of White's earlier music ("Love Interruption", "Sixteen Saltines", "Trash Tongue Talker"...) much of the album falls largely flat. The album's lead of track, "Missing Pieces" feels very much like The White Stripes song "There's No Home For You Here". It has a strong groove to it, and Jack's voice cuts through the mix as always but there's something unsettling to me here. To my ear, the music sounds over-produced, or ill-mixed for a Jack White track. While normally a fan of White's distinctive vocal style, here it is jarring and distracting. This pattern of distracting vocals pops up over and over again in this album, most notably in the track "Freedom At 21", where Jack's awkward rap reminds one of Mindless Self Indulgence more than anything that can be expected from White. Is this evolution of White's style, or is he simply trying something new and (in my opinion) falling short? In all, what energy this album has feels like an overproduced shadow of that found in any of White's previous musical endeavors. For fans of The White Stripes, this album's music does sound like a natural progression from "Icky Thump", towards a more produced, mellowed out sound with only hints and references to the raw, gritty energy that made White famous.
Lyrics — 5
Many of White's lyrics in this album feel more contrived than usual. For me, the lyrical high point of this album is in "Love Interruption". The haunting, frustrated remorseful tone of White's singing and writing plays with White's guitar line to present a powerful, striking image. Unfortunately, from here the album begins to drop. "Sixteen Saltine"'s energy is evocative of the Jack White of old, but the lyrics are nonsensical to the point of being distracting. We've seen a somewhat silly, and childish White before in each of his previous endeavors, but the writing in this album is somehow... Lacking.
Overall Impression — 6
When I was first informed of this album's impending release I was terribly excited. I had thought that since The White Stripes had practically been a solo act for white, that we could begin to expect more of the same, putting white on the map with the high energy Black Keys enjoying success from their recent "El Camino". Unfortunately, by comparison to all of White's previous work, and especially the artists to which he will be compared, this album is tame. There isn't a single song on here - barring "Love Interruption" - that strikes me as a hit. The L.A. Times reviewed "Blunderbuss" saying "White focuses on the pre-computer, post-hippie era of music, circa 1970-75, a style mastered by The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Mott The Hoople, The Who...", all bands that started aggressive but ultimately became heavier and mellower as they matured. I disagree with this analysis, because while White has mellowed, and his music is certainly more sophisticated than the punchy, off-timed powerchords of The White Stripes days, "Blunderbuss" has a lighter, more 'pop' oriented feel, as opposed to his rough-and-tumble blues of the past. The L.A. Times also relates White to fellow Blues-men The Black Keys and Gary Clark Junior, but I don't feel that this analysis is particularly apt. While Gary Clark Jr. does seem to be a rightful member of the new wave of young blues men, White seems to shirk the blues in favor of a higher-energy, pop/R&B feel at times. Likewise, while The Black Keys have taken strong influence from the musicians of old, They have updated these themes and brought them into powerful, jarring riffs and tunes that pull the audience onto the floor to move, and shake. Compared to the Keys' "El Camino", "Blunderbuss" is audio wallpaper. I may come off as a little harsh but perhaps that's my disappointment sneaking through. If you were hoping for a kick-back to the old, edgy White Stripes days fully of high-energy riffs like "Sixteen Saltines", or the powerful moody presentation of Love Interruption, you will be sorely disappointed. As a stand-alone, "Blunderbuss" is at least a good indication of how far Jack has come as an artist. It's certainly worth a listen or two, but after that I'm not sure that it'll keep me coming back over and over. If I managed to lose this album, I don't think I'd be too broken up about it. White's music has always been at the very top of my favorites list, but I fear he is beginning to slip and I find myself more and more in The Black Keys, Gary Clark Jr. camp. Pick it up, and give it a whirl, but don't be surprised if you find the once-champion of indie garage rock to have gone soft in his old age and tenure.