Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Jack White Experience: Becoming a Fan and 'Blunderbuss' Review

Over a decade ago, a quick and furious track called 'Fell in Love with a Girl' hit the radio waves. Right around the time that messy, garage-style, blues rock was becoming popular, The White Stripes fit in well with their radio-counterparts. Consisting of Meg White on drums and Jack White doing everything else, The White Stripes found a way to take old-school notions of popular blues and rock music and give it a fresh spin. At first, I wasn't a fan of The White Stripes or any of the singles that they released at the time. This was, of course, during my angsty whiny hard rock phase, so the Stripes slipped under my radar. I wasn't a fan of Jack White's singing style and I was even less impressed with Meg's contribution to the party. The one exception was 'Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground', which made its way onto a mix cd. Later on, when 'Seven Nation Army' was released, I was officially annoyed with the White Stripes and became an anti-fan, also known as a Hater.

Years passed, other bands came and went, the garage-rock radio explosion died down, and The White Stripes were cemented in our musical pop culture. In 2006, a catchy little number called 'Steady as She Goes' was released. It was Jack's voice on the track, but it sure wasn't The White Stripes. The sound was a little more polished, more accomplished, and more fun than any of the Stripes songs I had heard at the time. I picked up the album Broken Boy Soldiers and instantly became a fan. The Raconteurs are master rock n rollers, with hints of blues, folk, and pop in their sound. At the time, I didn't realize that Jack was only doing half the singing, and the other voice belonged to Brendan Benson. I don't think that a lot of people realize The Raconteurs isn't all Jack, and Brendan deserves just as much credit for creating their sound and style. 'Intimate Secretary', 'Level', and 'Store Bought Bones' all remain on my regular rotation.

Next came the album Consolers of the Lonely, which carried forward the storytelling magic and entertaining musical style of their debut album, while also showing the band growing and extending their range. Out of The Raconteurs' two albums, I prefer this one to listen to beginning to end. With the fast catchy rock of the title track, to the strangely infectious 'The Switch and the Spur', to the country stylings of 'Old Enough', the emotional piano ballad 'You Don't Understand Me', the tragic story of 'Carolina Drama', the folk-rocky and beautifully written 'These Stones Will Shout', and of course, to my personal highlight, the bitter 'Top Yourself', this album has something for everyone to enjoy.  I have a special memory of listening to 'Top Yourself' when it was still fresh to me, sitting drunk in my friend Wayne Mugsby's living room, the night after initiating a break up with my now ex-girlfriend. The lyrics really connected with my situation and to this day I still remember that moment. I've also had the pleasure of seeing The Raconteurs play live. The first time was with said-ex-girlfriend at the Commodore and the second time was at the Malkin Bowl, with ChinaCat Sunflower and other close friends. You can't truly appreciate how talented of a musician Jack White is until you can witness him playing guitar or piano in person. To this day I'm still waiting for a third album by the Raconteurs, as this is easily my favourite Jack White project.

The next band that featured Jack White was The Dead Weather. This is my least favourite White project and I don't have much to say about them. I've listened to both albums that Dead Weather has offered, and neither has intrigued or interested me. Usually, even if I don't personally like a band's music, I can understand their direction and appreciate how others could like them. In this case, I'm just not sure what The Dead Weather is trying to accomplish with their sound. It's just a little too out-there for my tastes and I can't even define a genre, it's just twisted techno pop rock noise music. They've had a few catchy radio singles, but you'll never catch me listening to a while album by them. I hope that Jack sticks to his other, more entertaining, projects in the future.

Earlier this year, I heard a song titled 'Love Interuption' on the radio. I instantly clued in that Jack White was singing, but I couldn't pin-point if it was a Raconteurs or White Stripes song. Turns out, it was the lead-off single from Jack's first solo effort, titled Blunderbuss. At this point in time, Jack White has solidified himself as a future classic-rocker, with legions of fans all over the world and already enough success that he doesn't have to make music for money anymore, just pleasure. As a fan of some of Jack's music, but not particularily a fan of the man himself, I was both interested and wary of this solo album. I basically expected it to be twelve tracks of Jack sitting with an acoustic guitar, squeaking and shouting his way through a bunch of over-indulgent songs. Boy, I was mistaken. Though some critics may still describe the album as the way I expected it to be, I found myself very impressed with the musical range presented on Blunderbuss. Where I was expecting the same acoustic style in every song, Jack surprised me with ventures into folk, blues, rock, and country, throughout the album. I found the CD to be an entertaining listen from beginning to end, and while I don't love every track, there isn't really one that I dislike.

Though it may be a little late in the game, I believe that Jack truly comes into his own as a musician on this album. Sure, his voice is still squeaky and his songs are still simply-crafted, but the heart and soul he pours into Blunderbuss is enough to make this my 2nd favourite White project, next to The Raconteurs. The aspect of the album that impresses me the most is brutally honest and heart-felt lyrics. Sure, Jack's lyrics have never been very cryptic, he's usually a pretty open book, but I've never heard him quite this forth-right and personal. The track 'Freedom at 21' expresses Jack's feelings about young, spoiled brats (maybe just one in particular), 'Hypocritical Kiss' is a scathing letter to an anonymous person who has clearly got under Jack's chin, and 'Missing Pieces' is a great assessment of the damage a relationship-breakup can cause. One of the highlights of the album is an extremely fun and playful track titled 'I'm Shakin', which is the only one that Jack didn't write on his own. It's also interesting to note that 90% of the personnel that Jack works with on Blunderbuss is female. Other than the all-male lineup in The Raconteurs, Jack seems comfortable working with female musicians, but after The White Stripes break up last year, maybe Jack is trying to find his new Meg. I wonder if we'll ever hear from her again.

Listening to, and enjoying, Jack's solo album inspired me to go back and give The White Stripes another try. Over the years my tastes have moved over to more stripped down, bluesy rock music, so I'm not surprised that I appreciate The White Stripes much more now than back in my high school days. While I'd still only rank the Stripes as my third favourite incarnation of Jack White, songs such as 'Ball and Biscuit', 'I'm Finding it Harder to be a Gentleman', 'The Denial Twist', and '300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues' are consistently blasting away on my iPod lately. And while I don't have it on my regular rotation, 'Fell in Love with a Girl' is one of my favourite songs to come across on the radio, I always turn the volume all the way up, dream of my life in Lego, and rock hard for the 2 minutes that it takes to listen to the song.

Going into today, I had no idea what the topic of my blog post would be. There are several other singer-songwriters who I prefer over Jack White and who I would love to write about (and likely will, someday). But one of the first songs I heard this morning was 'Blunderbuss', and it inspired me to spend some time thinking and writing about Jack White. He sure doesn't need my adoration, he has a million fans out there, and I may never watch an interview or love everything he touches, but for the first time since discoveing Jack over a decade ago, I can finally admit that I'm a fan of his. Unless tragedy strikes either him or I, I fully expect to still be listening to whatever Jack White offers for decades to come. Another Raconteurs album next, please!

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