As if on schedule, Jack White’s solo debut “Blunderbuss” is drawing comparisons to Bob Dylan’s breakup masterpiece “Blood on the Tracks,” because it catalogues White’s divorce from wife Karen Elson in angry and exhaustive detail, and because his use of Dylan as some kind of spirit animal is becoming more evident the older White gets.
“Blunderbuss” is White unfettered and unmoored, as much the illegitimate offspring of Robert Plant as he is Dylan’s (un)natural heir. It’s restless, cranky and great, although weirdly inconsequential: less a statement of artistic purpose than a stellar collection of songs. It’s a high-strung blues-folk album at its core, a procession of genre exercises that feel like poses airlifted out of the rockabilly and boogie-woogie piano exhibits at some dusty museum of Americana tropes.
White moves through these roots maneuvers as if he were trying on suits, but shape-shifting is his specialty. “Blunderbuss” is unfocused but never false. It’s the logical extension of his work with the Raconteurs and, especially, the White Stripes. “Sixteen Saltines” is one of the few tracks to conjure up the blast furnace heat of that late, lamented duo, although it’s one of many that makes White sound like the leader of a Plant cover band. “Trash Tongue Talker” is a country-rock barroom rave-up that briefly channels the Band. “The people around me won’t let me become what I need to,” White gripes unconvincingly on the dolorous “On and On and On.” “They want me the same.”
Hangers-on may be frequent targets, but women don’t come off well, either: They’re creatures of eternal falseness, apparently, who wear too much makeup and want to kill White’s mother and send her to hell. Strange, then, that the disc’s lesser tracks could make a person miss Meg White, who, heaven knows, never seemed to do very much. Its most reassuring presence may be Elson, a fine singer in her own right and, apparently, not one to hold a grudge. She provides harmony vocals throughout.
“Sixteen Saltines,” “Take Me With You When You Go,” “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy”