Jack White is an iconoclast. He has charisma. He has musical chops. He loves the blues. He’s been part of three bands—two of which were good, and one of which was GREAT. He plays guitars made out of strung wire and Coke bottles—as though he feels he has to work harder for the incredible talent he’s been given…paying some sort of penance for it. Or maybe he just has a giant ego and does it just to show it can be done.
And he creates myths and legends about himself, and holds so strongly to them that they eventually become a sort of truth. We know he was once married to White Stripes drummer Meg, but he maintained that she was his sister right to the end of the band. And when I think of them, I instantly think of Meg as his sister, even though I know the truth. Maybe he’s a hypnotist, too…
His first solo album isn’t a vast departure from the White we know. “Sixteen Saltines” opens with a powerful, catchy riff. And album opener “Missing Pieces” has the bluesy swagger and dirty guitar solo of midlife White Stripes—while comparing love to having pieces of you removed over time.
You see…this album is informed by the two major upheavals leading up to it—the official breakup of the White Stripes, and his divorce from second wife Karen Elson. So when he sings, I won’t let love disrupt, corrupt, or interrupt me anymore… we know there’s real pain behind those words.
And the whole album is full of images equating love with pain.
Cut off the bottoms of my feet
Made me walk on salt
(“Freedom at 21”)
I want love to
Grab my fingers gently
Slam them in a doorway
And put my face into the ground
It’s not all blues, though. The title track sounds like an old country song—complete with steel guitar. And he uses much more piano throughout the album.
“Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” is a simple, catchy song that seems to be a breakup song aimed at Meg. He’s pushing her away while also being jealous that now she’s “got nothing to do.” We also get a glimpse into the root of his seeming workaholism when he sings, But I can’t stand still/Because I know that I will.
These aren’t bombastic, in-your-face crushers; they’re understated, powerful—if depressing—musical musing on love and its effect on White’s life. I hope he finds the real thing someday…