The White Stripes have been officially disbanded for over a year now, but fans of their sound are in luck: the newest White Stripes album was just released this Tuesday in the form of Blunderbuss by Jack White. Surely that’s over-simplifying things, right? Both fortunately and unfortunately, it’s not.
First the good news: Jack White’s songwriting and guitar playing powers remain mostly intact for his first solo record. Distinctive guitar parts help to differentiate songs and lends strong personality to every non-piano piece. Slightly less than half of the record operates in some kind of guitar mode and those parts are easy to recall: the harsh (and satisfying) attack of “Sixteen Saltines,” the acoustic flow on “Love Interruption,” the bluesy swagger of “I’m Shakin'” It’s nice to see that White’s always-infectious guitar licks are as essential as ever and most fans of guitar rock will be quick to latch onto these tracks.
The majority of Blunderbuss explores the piano-space best defined by the White Stripes tune “The Denial Twist” but does so without straying too far from the “Denial” formula. That’s a good thing (after all, “Denial” is one of the best Stripes songs), but similarity causes the latter half of the record to slump a bit. “Hypocritical Kiss” and “Weep Themselves to Sleep” are more alike than not. Even songs that deal in tempo changes like “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” and “I Guess I Should Go to Sleep” keep fairly close to the path. Each piano song features a blues-esque format with a reasonably propulsive rhythm section and the occasional flourish of guitar. Individually, every song is thoroughly enjoyable, but the tracks seem repetitive when taken as a whole and stuffed into the latter half of the record.
Thankfully, all tracks (both guitar and piano based) don’t wander too far and tend to keep between two and four minutes in length. An economy of sound forces strong musical phrases to the forefront and excludes self-indulgent wandering. That characteristic was common to nearly every White Stripes song and is beneficial here. Even through the similarity of the piano pieces, nothing lasts so long as to become truly boring.
And that’s the trick to dealing with Blunderbuss: it fits the expectations and doesn’t stray far from White’s previous work. Lyrically things aren’t overwhelmingly original (themes of rejection, being alone) and retread piano songs are good but not outstanding. While this will sound like a cop-out, it’s true: if you enjoy the White Stripes, you’re going to like this album. You may not find Blunderbuss the most outstanding Jack White project (because it isn’t), but it helps to fill the rock void left at the end of his most famous band. Pick this up and enjoy the high points, just don’t expect a career-defining artistic statement.