“I eat sixteen saltine crackers, then I lick my fingers” is a killer rock lyric. Beyond the alliteration and syntax, that shit bleeds sex, both literally and in the tradition of lurid rock double entendres that dates back to “Blueberry Hill.” It’s sliced from the title of Jack White’s latest single “Sixteen Saltines,” which is a mostly awesome onslaught of couplets about the thrills of dangerous love. (The single appears on Blunderbuss, his solo LP that’s streaming freely on iTunes.) “Spike heels make a hole in a lifeboat,” he growls, which is totally true (they sink into grass too) — but also his intent that a relationship with some kind of vampish girl is doomed, his own self-destruction implicated with it. “Looking up, throwing up, a lifesaver down my throat.” It’s prototypical mythos of sex, drugs, rock from its own masculinist lens on a bumbling chunk of a guitar riff — the song’s, and White’s, indebtedness to AC/DC, Sabbath, the Who is palpable. But the simplicity and rawness of its lyrics just hits, and cliche concepts are rendered technicolor. Coupled with the dystopian imagery of the video, which builds on the cultural moment of “Hunger Games” and “Walking Dead,” with a little “Children Of The Corn” thrown in, a deeply uncomplicated track becomes a kind of referendum on love songs: you wish your relationship was all you had to worry about.
I never felt the White Stripes all that much unless White was playing on the low-end of the fret — that deep bass and clamoring drums hit somewhere in the diaphragm, and/or my lifelong penchant for dance music. Blunderbuss doesn’t have much of that (RZA would have been a pretty welcome addition), erring more on the side of country, folk, and overblown ‘70s piano solos, with few exceptions, which is a drag. “I’m Shakin” has a bit of T-Bone blues in its lineage, as does “Trash Tongue Talker” and “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy,” which sounds like a boozy Janis Joplin track, Jack White draping himself dramatically over a piano and sending himself up in deprecating fortissimo. “I’ll be happy for you cause you got nothing to do and I’ll be singing the blues walking around singin, ‘Poor boy.” This is a strangely amicable break-up album, but it seems like it might be less about his divorced wife Karen Elson and more about divorced bandmate Meg White.
Coincidentally, I liked all the songs Tom hated and vice versa, though I thought the album was about 65% unlistenable: White’s folkier stylistic conceits are deeply annoying (ugh god the honky tonk pianoooo), though are consistent, and coincide with his suspect crusade against technology and advancement. (“Suspect”: As with steampunk, I am skeptical of anyone who romanticizes a time when women and people of color could not own property or vote.) But it’s undeniable that his lyricism is awesome, no doubt wrapped inside his gift for storytelling and desire to control the narrative, a need Josh Eells’s fascinating profile discussed. White as a fascinating weirdo is clearly one of the more interesting tales in contemporary music, my contempt for his ProTools disdain be damned: Any man with that much respect for making his tale more colorful for the purposes of his own mythology is kind of great. (Jack White and Rick Ross; duet?) It’s not the story, but how you tell it.
Speaking of stories, here’s a brief thought on one we didn’t expect would have this kind of epilogue: Hologramic Tupac. Apparently Afeni Shakur approved the resurrection and Dr. Dre is going to take him on tour, but as Jay Smooth put it on Twitter: We can bring Tupac to life but we can’t find justice for his killer? The whole affair leaves a lingering bad taste.