Set on Shuffle: Jack White

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Prelude

Here we are, at it again with another installment of Set on Shuffle, our trifecta approach to music criticism. This time around, in belated honor of last month’s Lazaretto reminding everybody that Jack White is still one of the most important alt rock musicians in the game (even if he is just the one Stripe), we’ve decided to take a three-pronged approach to breaking down his music. We have a review from the White Stripes days, one from a side-project super-group (The Raconteurs), as well as White’s last solo release. Not to put too fine or cheesy a point on it, but join us as we take a look at Jack White’s full “spectrum.”

The Reviews

Allen

Album Title: Elephant by The White StripesImpression: What an interesting phenomenon, The White Stripes are. Jack White, known mostly for his abrasive attitude towards press and celebrities paired up with Meg White, the quiet, pensive type. After an entire decade of sadness and grunge, the 2000s came around to bring back positivity. And although Elephant isn’t a particularly uplifting album, it blends old and new styles in a refreshing way. The intentional lack of production value shows, but starting off with the legendary riff of “Seven Nation Army” pretty much guarantees you have a good album on your hands. It’s punchy, memorable, and incredibly dense. More than anything, Elephant is an album where Jack’s vocals ride passenger to instruments almost all the time. I kept getting an image of a young impressionable kid listening to this abum during songs like “Black Math” and “I Want To Be The Boy To Warm Your Mother’s Heart.” Even Meg gets to take a crack at singing on “In The Cold, Cold Night”, and it’s one of the most jarring transitions of the entire album. Basically from “Ball and Biscuit” onward, every guitar solo is incredible, and then the whole thing ends with a weirdly placid three-way conversation between Jack, Meg, and Jack’s “new girlfriend” Holly, who may or may not actually have been his girlfriend at the time. It’s just really refreshing to listen to the point where rock music returned to its roots, and called back to the correct influences for melody and inspiration.

Favorite Track: “Hypnotize” wins out for this one, mainly because the guitar work is on another level. Contemporaries like The Arctic Monkeys had good reason to be inspired by tracks like this, and even though it’s very short, the fact that half of it is straight up shredding is so exemplary of The White Stripes “fuck your rules and structure” mentality.

Take-Away: The lyrics to all of Elephant paint a really vivid image, but nothing beats out the bass lines and solos on this album. They’re truly something to behold, and each one is uniquely memorable.

James

Album Title: Broken Boy Soldiers by The Raconteurs

Impression:  The first song, and probably the most famous Raconteurs song, is the little diddy “Steady as She Goes.” As I have alluded to before, I like rock-based punk songs with interesting transitions. The rhythmic intensity provides a good transition into the album, a great hook for what is a good album. The tone immediately starts to slow down, with a more balladesque song titled “Hands.” The song is energetic, albeit at a much slower pace than the opening. The album maintains an even keel for the most part, a mixture of energy, but at a much slower pace than the introductory song. The focus in these parts seems to be devoted to the production, with a very polished product. As the album nears its end, the songs start to slow down, draining the energy down till the final track “Blue Veins.” The album feels like it covers the life and death of a person, from the hectic aftermath of birth to the eventual fade-out into the grave.

Favorite Track: “Broken Boy Soldier” From the beginning, the song started off with a cool instrumental section. While the tempo kept with the theme of the album-steady with a beat- the vocals in this piece were highly stylized, giving everything a somewhat ethereal tone. The tune was very catchy, and tells a particular story, with some well-placed riffs in the middle of the song.

Take-Away: Throbbing. A weird choice of words, but this album throbs. The energy and the pacing contribute to the feeling, with huge power and a steady rhythm. The album does not want for finish, and brings together a production in a great, professional way.

Magellan

Album Title: Blunderbuss by Jack White

Impression: You’ll already know this if you read last week’s Three By Three on eponymous albums, but I’m going to say it again anyway: I’m a big White Stripes fan. Now, granted I came to them fairly late, to the point that I think they had already broken up by the time I first listened to White Blood Cells. That being said, I instantly fell in love with the band, so naturally I’ll gladly devour anything else Jack White chooses to do with at least half a smile on my face. This is especially true of Blunderbuss, his explosive solo premiere. And, I don’t mean explosive in a grungy, pounding, “Jimmy the Exploder” sort of way. I mean explosive in terms of the sheer breadth and depth of some of these songs. From the very first song (“Missing Pieces”) Jack White lets you know what he can do with layered sound and measured pace, creating music that is much more meditative than his earlier work, but no less powerful or expressive. He also follows that up with “Sixteen Saltines,” a show-don’t-tell way to remind you that he can still pump out that same high-octane shredding that you know and love. The album does take a bit of a dip in the middle (from “Love Interruption” through “Weep Themselves to Sleep”), if only because of the overall slower tempo. White reinvigorates the record with “I’m Shakin’,” a deceptively by-the-numbers blues tune that accentuates his ability to weave together traditional and modern aesthetics to create something truly fantastic. The album then winds down, finishing with the decent “Take Me With You When You Go.” In terms of final tracks it’s nothing to write home about, but it fits the album fairly well.

Favorite Track: “Freedom at 21” has to get my vote, if only because it displays the full range of what White is able to accomplish in this album. It weaves through layers of musical complexity, from the verse in which his vocals and the rhythm guitar are stereo-split, to the multi-instrumental crescendo that leads into a wicked guitar solo. I also like the falsetto thing he does, it’s a nice vocal touch that makes the song that much more quirky and interesting.

Take-Away: Give it a listen. Although not as charming or memorable as a given White Stripes album, there’s still plenty to love on this record. The guitar work alone is enough to keep you enthralled, and I would argue that this is a better entry-point into Jack White as a musician than Lazaretto.

Epilogue

There you have it, a colorful look at the three primary versions of Jack White that are out there to be consumed. If you have strong opinions about these reviews, or just want to let us know about your favorite tracks, go ahead and respond in the comments below. In the meantime, we’ll be in the garage blasting “Fell in Love With a Girl” on a loop.

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