Jack White

“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.

Comments (15)
  1. I too liked all the song Tom disliked but I also think 95% is extremely well written and listenable.

  2. Aaron Cunningham  |   Posted on Apr 18th, 2012 +19

    I prefer the look of older Cadillacs to any of the models I’ve seen in the last ten years… GOP efforts not withstanding, women and people of color in America probably have it better right now than at any other point in our nation’s history. Does that make me “suspect” too? I AM wearing a hoodie, after all…

    As an African-American male and a feminist, I have no beef with and no skepticism toward Jack White’s preference for analog over digital technology. I’m not really sure how one makes the leap to attaching such a preference to some broader societal context, or why anyone would want to; sometimes a saltine is just a saltine… The man likes analog because he thinks it sounds better. He has the resources at his disposal to make that choice. How that factors into your enjoyment of his music is a mystery to me. At least we agree on Steampunk, though, eh?

    • I absolutely agree w/ Aaron; the writer’s point about women and minorities makes me assume that their own understanding and interpretation of White’s motives, and therefore his music is unfocused at best and entirely inaccurate at worst, bringing into question the ability of the writer to make a valid deconstruction of the album. C+

  3. Should be pretty cool to see what Gary Oldman does directing the online show. I thought Blunderbuss was solid throughout, although 16 Saltines was definitely my favorite. http://www.youtube.com/JackwhiteVEVO

  4. 65% unlistenable?! Man, you and Tom and I couldn’t disagree more about this album. I actually think this album’s better than anything else he’s done.

    • I could not agree more with you Wesley

    • Exactly–”65% unlistenable”? ….does this writer have access to some alternate universe of groundbreaking, melodic, catchy, relevant, accessible music that completely sets a whole new precedent for what constitutes “good” music? … If this “unlistenable”, then how do you describe the sound of nails on a chalkboard? …based on this standard, would the White Album would be merely “acceptable” ?

  5. I know we all love to take Julianne to task for her language – but writing “that shit bleeds sex” while talking about entendres and somehow not being attuned to what her own metaphoric language is literally describing is sort of funny. If “shit bleeds sex…literally” someone needs to see a doctor.

  6. Evidently I have no idea what “unlistenable” means. I thought that was strictly reserved for the likes of “Lulu” and “MDNA”.

  7. The frequency of these Deconstructing posts is a testament to how little thought actually goes into them.

  8. Also, WTF with the Tupac paragraph?

    • Tupac’s killer is most definitely not lounging on a beach in the French Riveria drinking mai-thais right now. The guy himself is most probably either dead or incarcerated – and I say this as one who can claim the authority of watching all five seasons of The Wire. Also, you do not “find” justice for a killer. You “bring” a killer to justice. You “find” justice for the victim’s families.

  9. A more concise and accurate deconstruction of Jack White:
    He likes old, raw blues tunes.
    He tries to make music that sounds raw and older than it is.
    He’s written some good tunes that a lot of people like.
    He has also written really crappy songs, many of which are too dirivitive of ones he already wrote.
    He wears makeup.
    He’s not a good guitar player from a technical sense but it doesnt really matter for most of the music he makes.
    He made a record club subscription service so he can release limited run records and charge a bunch of money for…which he thinks will make them more special and rare…which is totally different from how records that are actually special and rare are created, by being old, out of print, overlooked gems, etc.
    He wears a lot of makeup.
    He said/did some cool things in that It Might Get Loud Movie.
    He wrote and performed a song in that same movie that made my stomach hurt with embarrassment for him because it was so lame.
    He wears a metric shitload of makeup.

  10. Painful read. #sharkjumped

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