The first Jack White solo album feels like it might be a rare moment of truth from a man who has built a rock career on artifice and the unexpected. Dressing strictly in red, white and black with his pretend wife Meg in The White Stripes, taking joint billing with co-frontman Brendan Benson in The Raconteurs and hiding behind the drum kit in The Dead Weather, never before has he occupied the spotlight alone as himself.
Even so, Blunderbuss is less a grand unmasking than a smooth progression from what has gone before. It’s naturally broader in scope than the basic savagery of The White Stripes, enjoying a lighter touch from a dominant piano, though White’s guitar still rocks powerfully on Sixteen Saltines. It’s old-fashioned, naturally, taking in acoustic folk on Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy, a head-nodding boogie on Trash Tongue Talker and raw gospel blues on a tremendous Little Willie John cover, I’m Shakin’.
Anyone looking for personal insights may be disappointed. Proving that acrimony isn’t what it used to be, White’s ex-wife Karen Elson pops up on backing vocals, and even the bleakest lines on the wiry Freedom at 21 (“She don’t care what kind of wounds she’s inflicted on me”) turn out to be about nasty website comment boards.
What we do find is a man still working 21st Century miracles with an age-old format, bringing everything together on the thrilling, collossal centrepiece, Weep Themselves to Sleep. Whatever the name on the tin, the brand goes from strength to strength.