Monday, 23 April 2012

The 2kDozen 500: #148 - Jack White, "Blunderbuss"

The problem I have with The White Stripes, which has manifested itself several times while watching them perform and listening to their albums, is that they get dull within three or four tunes. First time hearing them for a while, I'd think to myself "I'd forgotten how good the Stripes are", but it wouldn't take long at all for all the limitations to re-surface, for the same drum and distorted guitar narrowness to direct me back to Yawnsville.

"Sixteen Saltines" sounds just like those auld Stripes records. I just picture Meg bouncing away on her stool and nothing much happening apart from empty guitar histrionics. He has a knack for a good chorus lyric: "Who's jealous/Who's jealous/Who's jealous of who?" is catchy and unusual for sure. But it sounds a lot like "The Hardest Button To Button" and a lot of other stuff. Perhaps it's a danger of the borderline heritage music he plays; that he can't deviate too far from the bluesy model and that stymies the creativity. Not sure I have a problem with this, when I can listen to the even more repetitive and backward-looking Drokk and like it. I mean, I like it; it just wears thin.

From the woodwind onwards though "Love Interruption" is a different kettle of blues mackerel. The boil builds up nicely like a kettle would. The lyric is oily and nourishing like mackerel. The metaphor is strained like all the best love songs: "I want love to murder my own mother.../Change my friends to enemies/Show me how it's all my fault". Not sure what Love really here is, but it should be spelt with a capital letter - right at the beginning, where the L is. Love always seem to be a mysterious voodoo-y beast for Jack. The song's quirky and good and short - important pop principles all.

I could do without all the Edgar Allen Poe business. Posing with a vulture on his shoulder, the monotone colours: sepia in his blood, but it doesn't convince me. "Hypocritical Kiss" staggers without sea legs over a rowdy, amped-up, rolling piano line. And Jack's angry about betrayal of "a dead brother with a hypocritical kiss". I fall into an assumption that it's about the music business. Nice piano though. "Nobody throws the blows that breaks your nose like I can" on the next tune - is he still on about that Von Bondie guy? He can't be, can he? The title of the album begins to make sense: he's taking a loose aim at everybody. "Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy" is him against the critics once again. It's his Losing My Edge. (It isn't.)

Interesting there are two tracks about sleep. "Weep Themselves to Sleep" has a cute guitar solo that cuts out like the lead is faulty; but lyrically he's got his blunderbuss out again. It's about girls trying to hold fighting men back but that rules and time can't hold them back. The enfeebling effect of women again, eh? Passive aggression radiates out from "I Guess I Should Go To Sleep" after he's been "running too long on an endless street". Maybe he hopes to wake up in 1948. Or in a Universe without women.

"I'm Shakin'" has Jack fucked over by love/sex again. He's both Bo Diddley at one point and Samson a bit later on. Love is a disease to Jack. He can't stress that point enough. It's projection. It's the Blues. Don't you know there ain't no Devil, there's just Screamin' Jay when he's drunk. Likewise Jack and the ladies dem.

So he's tired, he's fighting and he's wary of womenfolk: all a bit Charlton Heston for my tastes. "On and On and On" is the eye of the needle: "The people around me won't let me become when I mean to/They want me the same/I look at myself and I want to/Just cover my eyes and change my name." It might be the track that works best for me - because it's nearer the meat and sinew of his problem. Then he surrenders to the womanly Other and asks her to take him away with her.

Musically, he might have branched out - moving into a blend of folksy, heavily-amped fiddle and piano and loungier, jazzier keys and woodwind with cameos from his blistering guitar assaults - but lyrically and vocally, he sounds pretty tired and rut-stuck. I don't know what he's going to do to manouevre out of his fug.

Rating: Marching On out of Weariness

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