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Credit: Kris Krug

Music

Revisiting the moment Jack White launched his solo voice with ‘Blunderbuss’

Breaking up is hard to do, Neil Sedaka once sang. Well, it must have been easy for Jack White as he broke up with not one band, but three. Although he is still best known for fronting The White Stripes, White also toured with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, making him an essential collaborator to bounce ideas off.

This is why his decision to go solo in 2012 was a surprising one, particularly as he spent most of his time leading like-minded musicians into uncharted waters. But he felt it was time to release his independent voice, unveiling Blunderbuss, a record he could never have written with another collaborator, given the personal content that was in it.

“I’ve put off making records under my own name for a long time,” he conceded, “But these songs feel like they could only be presented under my name. These songs were written from scratch, had nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression, my own colours on my own canvas.” He pours himself into the lyrical content, although this did come at a cost as ‘Freedom At 21’ was chastised for embodying a misogynistic form of thought that was deemed passe at this time.

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It’s not a brilliant lyric, but it shows the guitarist embracing his own voice after 15 years of band work. When he lets the guitar sing, it soars, ripping through the airwaves, like a knife cutting through butter. The beginnings of Fear of the Dawn can be heard on the album, particularly on ‘Weep Themselves to Sleep’, a propulsive rocker that aims for the gut as well as the mind.

He sounds electric, but there’s definitely a sadness to the work, not least on the lonely ‘Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy’, which aches to understand the change in tone between the blues-rock that cemented his youth against the hip-hop tracks that had become the modern-day lingua franca.

The album showcases the songwriter in a precipice, and out of the four albums he has issued, this is certainly the least confident sounding. But there’s a charm to the reticence, showcasing a musician who is taking the tentative steps into the realm of the unknown.

Amidst these songs come the trembling vulnerability of ‘I Guess I Should Go to Sleep’. Given the lack of rockers, White made the curious decision to remove his cover of U2‘s ‘Love Is Blindness’, although it was included on Japanese imports.

‘On and On and On’ shows a pop star who is growing disenfranchised with the success he has built for himself, and the anger comes out in an explosive guitar solo that rips through the proceedings, like the fire of a bullet running through the sky. He’d shown his guitar prowess on It Might Get Loud, a documentary that also boasted rock luminaries Jimmy Page and The Edge. But his guitar prowess on the title track is something else entirely, capturing a musician in the throes of a great discovery, twisting every chord and note with great gusto.

It was an admirable launching pad for the songwriter, who spent much of the remaining decade finetuning his voice. There was room to experiment, and he would experiment, but he was wise to start off his solo career with a more sombre work that celebrated his status as both a musician and vocalist. Elsewhere, the trebles and tremolos painted his emotion, showing the musician at a point of great pain in his personal life, yet livened by creativity, making it one of his most impressive displays of emotive guitar exhibition.

Stream the album Blunderbuss below.