Sound — 8
Jack White is, for many, the king of blues-rock in the 21st century. Ever since he wrote the riff to "Seven Nation Army," White has more or less achieved success with everything he has attempted. From The White Stripes to The Raconteurs to The Dead Weather to his ever-eccentric solo career, White has amassed a catalog diverse enough to display his resourcefulness when it comes to attaining a certain sound that suits a certain purpose. All the while, his music is distinctly bluesy in feel regardless of the different directions he has gone, leading many to call White a genre-defining artist (a genre that seems to me like prog blues).
Like most progressive artists, White hides a focused countenance behind the musical eccentricities that would have some define him as progressive. Maybe on purpose, the album art describes perfectly what I am talking about: White sitting, not looking at the camera, deep in thought, with his figures of creativity surrounding him. At some points, like in the trippy song "That Black Bat Licorice," it seems that White has lost his mind (and I mean that in the good, evil genius type of way). Yet, when viewed in the context of the whole album, it seems like this vibe is actually the product of an intensely focused White making conscious decisions as to how he wants his sound to affect the listener. Or he could be making this up as he goes along and I'm just talking out of my you know what.
Maybe this is already understood, but Jack White is also breaking new personal ground. For instance, this album has little focus on guitars. Instead of the guitar being the central instrument in White's songs, it is now merely a tool; one of many at his disposal when trying to achieve a certain sound. For example, White's toolshed now incorporates rap in his songs as well as country tendencies, something that White seemed to allude to in "Blunderbuss" but only now has fully embraced. While I do miss the more hard-driving nature of "Blunderbuss," I recognize White's growth as a musician. But, heck, growth doesn't matter if the music doesn't sound good. Thankfully, the music on here is just as good, if not better than that found on "Blunderbuss."
The only aspect of this album that is subpar is the staying power of the songs. Upon a first listen of the album, each song jumps out as having something new and exciting. However, upon a second listen, these variations have little effect, and in fact, it appears that the album is a collection of songs that all blend in/sound the same. The biggest culprit of this downfall, in my opinion, is the lack of truly outstanding material. Though there are no dud songs, there are also no "wow" songs: nothing that makes a lasting impression, nothing that you will find yourself humming fifteen minutes later. Well, maybe "Just One Drink" is an exception, but only because the chorus is repeated incessantly.
Of course, we could just as easily look back at this album twenty years from now and reminisce about how it saved rock and roll by taking the genre down a new path that nobody had previously explored, thus influencing countless new artists. Or, this could be in the trash heap by the end of the year.
Lyrics — 8
As much as Jack White grows musically on this album, he also grows vocally. As I mentioned before, he is now injecting a much more concentrated dose of rap into his songs than before. On this album, Jack White also uses harmonies more prominently than before; they can be heard at pretty much any point of the album. White's voice is also versatile; when harmonizing with himself or others, he is able to use his voice to either accompany or create a variety of musical situations.
White's lyrics are, for the most part, boring or incomprehensible becomes it seems as if they were stretched to fulfill the needs of a song. In other words, there isn't much to speak of lyrically in terms of an agenda or a message.
Nevertheless, here are some catchy lyrics from "Just One Drink":
"You drink water, I drink gasoline
One of us is happy, one of us is mean
I love you, but honey, why don't you love me?
Yeah, well, I love you, but honey, why don’t you love me?
Just one drink gets me closer
Just one drink, it rolls you over
But then I start to think you're growing colder
The older and older, I am."
Overall Impression — 8
Overall, this is a great second solo album from Jack White. Not only does he show a considerable amount of musical growth, innovation, and ingenuity, but he also manages to make the album sound pretty damn good. Everything on this album is well thought out and executed, even at the points where it seems that White is trying to just have fun.
Nevertheless, this album is hindered by the fact that there are no supremely outstanding or over the top songs to keep the album fresh after one listen. Still, I heartily recommend the album to you. In my listening experience, the best song was "That Black Bat Licorice."