Jack White has always prided himself as cutting a gentlemanly swagger and, as we know, one of the most important parts of being a gentleman is to know how to throw a soiree. He certainly got it right last night (March 20th), as the world got its first airing of his solo debut ‘Blunderbuss’ at London’s plush County Hall.
On arrival, guests were met with Blunderbuss cocktails, a potent brew of Jack Daniels and Blue Curacao. After the brief reception we were led into the grand Debating Hall, given a pin badge with a random seat number designed to separate us from our friends to make sure that we listen dammit. But there was no removal of mobile phones as normally happens at these things, just a gentlemanly request to turn them off. And then a screen at the front of the room shows a needle go down on the 12’ vinyl, feeding directly from the upper chamber.
At the end, the gregarious Mayor Of Lambeth, Councillor Christiana Valcarcel, in full finery, introduced Mr Jack himself. And looking chipper, handsome and good-natured, he gives a goofy Q&A to the assembled, details of which you can read about here.
In fact, after such a classy evening reception, it might be very easy to forget about the actual music itself.
But we are the NME, and this is what we do. The album's pretty good, you know.
Things kick off with a Hammond intro, lulling into a low-slung woozy jam until Jack screeches in with his familiar higher register as piano wildery unfurls. “Sometimes people control everything about you,” he snarls, “when they tell you they can’t live without you / they ain’t lying, they’ll take pieces of you.”
Doing a similar job to ‘Black Math’, filthy guitar recalls classic mid-period Stripery as Jack powers forward with a commanding and sneering vocal stampede.
The frantic pace continues as a heavy, drumming-circle style intro powers into an intricate mash-up of guitar and organ, showing off the scale and density of sound Mr White is going for here. His comments about the sheer volume of players available in Nashville make a lot of sense.
A gentle reprieve from the heaviosity so far. But you know this one already, it’s the single.
The gentle pace continues as guitar and piano unfurl in lovely waltz time. This sounds like matured update of ‘I Wanna Be The Boy (To Warm Your Mother’s Heart) where these two kids are discovering that love is setting new, grown-up challenges.
A striding but ethereal thing, pretty, purposeful and piled with piano, this was a favourite of both the Mayor and Jack himself, with the vocal narrative flitting between a bunch of different perspectives.
The same ingredients as on most of the album come out again, but this time with a Queen-like sense of menace and opera, as stately guitar and piano riffing build towards the song’s awful climax. And by ‘awful’, we mean for the protagonists of the song, not for the listener.
A filthy ‘come-to-bed’ jam of a thing, an exercise in retro blues perfection, drenched in ‘ooh’ and hip thrusts and female backing vocals. This is roundly one of the most hyper-sexual things Jack has ever put his name to.
This comes on with a more funereal pout, but a pout nonetheless, as Jack complains, “I got no truck with you woman, always coming over when I ain’t home.” Low slung the beats begin to gallop, with an instrumental throwdown where a chorus might ordinarily be.
Opening with a glockenspiels that sound like the winding up of a music box, the track then explodes into a melodically ascending nursery rhyme. One of the album’s most energetic and playful moments.
Pure old-time melodrama, this is almost manipulative in how it presses your emotional buttons. You might call it studiously melodic, but it’s also one of ‘Blunderbuss’’ best songs, the album being back-loaded with its moments of fun and melody.
An eerie string prologue sets off another atmospheric exercise as the album enters its final act, an ethereal beast with some honky tonk fondling about beneath its deceptively simple melody.
A multi-tracked, multi-sectioned, multi-faceted psychedelic wig-out of a finale. Scraped strings battle with those Queen pianos, going against buzzing guitars and blood-curdling female vocals. This is Jack at his proggiest, and my, how far he’s come.
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Read John Mulvey's take on the new album at Uncut's Wild Mercury Sound blog.