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Jack White performs during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, Friday, March 16, 2012. (Jay Janner/Jay Janner / AP)
Jack White performs during the SXSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, Friday, March 16, 2012. (Jay Janner/Jay Janner / AP)

Music: disc of the week

Jack White: A one-man army, slightly off-kilter Add to ...

What does Jack White sound like?

As far as most rock fans are concerned, he sounds like the guitar and voice of the White Stripes. Or like one of the guitarists and vocalists in the Raconteurs. Or like the drummer (and occasional guitarist and vocalist) in the Dead Weather.

In other words, we imagine White as sounding like part of a band, and that may be why he seems a bit of a cipher on his first solo album. Sure we recognize the voice, and some of the guitar mannerisms, but what we recognize in the songs are mainly echoes of his influences – major chunks of blues rock, bits and pieces of prog and country.

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Beyond that, what makes these songs his seems mainly a matter of attitude and sound, and neither is exactly what you’d expect. Start with the sound. Blunderbuss opens not with a blast of guitar, but with a throb of electric piano, a cool, moody groove that makes a nice contrast to the jittery, hyper-syllabic cadence of White’s vocal. Add in a slightly paranoid cast to the lyrics, and Missing Pieces is hardly a bravura opener.

And yet it’s the perfect introduction to an album that seems more interested in keeping listeners off-balance than in bowling them over. But what else would you expect from a man who sings, “When they tell you that they just can’t live without you/They ain’t lyin’, they’ll take pieces of you/Then stand above you and walk away.” He may be thinking about his ex-wife there, but the words could as easily apply to an increasingly fickle rock audience.

Maybe that’s why the songs here have an almost hermetic feel, as if we’ve entered a world in which White is the only inhabitant. He’s been quoted as saying that the album has “nothing to do with anyone or anything else but my own expression, my own colours on my own canvas,” and indeed, there are moments when he seems interested only in creating an interesting combination of sounds, as with the dreamy Hypocritical Kiss, which sounds like each instrument was recorded in a different room.

Guitar geeks will no doubt thrill to the six-string sounds White has worked into his canvasses, particularly the stuttering, static-y dual guitar solo on Weep Ourselves to Sleep, or the snarling, multitracked solo he includes in a campy cover of Little Willie John’s I’m Shakin’. Still, it does seem a bit ironic that he applies the most intense of his high-tech guitar effects on Freedom at 21, a song whose lyrics are essentially a double-barrelled blast at computer-assisted living.

Then again, it’s also curious to note that even as many of these songs seem to rail against evil-doing, backstabbing, man-exploiting women, his most valuable foil on the album is a woman. Brooke Waggoner’s virtuosic piano is easily the best thing on most tracks, and regularly gives White the sort of goose his usual band mates seldom provide.

Maybe that’s what White’s real woman problem is: He can’t live with them, and he can’t make albums without them.

Blunderbuss

  • Jack White
  • Third Man/Columbia

Other new releases

POP: Out of the Game

  • Rufus Wainwright
  • Universal
  • Three and a half stars

Going from the mournful, understated art song approach of Wainwright’s last album to the big, brash, pop-savvy sound of this one is a bit like the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy goes from the drab, black-and-white reality of Kansas to the Technicolor fantasy of Oz. In this case, the wizard responsible is producer Mark Ronson, whose slick, retro-schooled settings dress up Wainwright’s songs in everything from glam rock bump-and-grind (Rashida) to synth-glazed post disco (Bitter Tears). But it’s not all pop candy, as Montauk has the burbling beauty of a Phillip Glass reverie, while the Celtic-tinged elegy Candles bids a suitably epic adieu to his mother. J.D. Considine

ROCK: Hair

  • Ty Segall and White Fence
  • Drag City
  • Three and a half stars

“We’d like to bring the guitar solo back to rock ’n’ roll,” 24-year-old Bay Area garage-rock wunderkind Ty Segall told SPIN about Hair, his collaboration with fellow rocker White Fence. There aren’t any 20-minute wankathons here, but they certainly brought the promised rocking and rolling. Hair is a pummeling mix of ’60s British Invasion-style pop-rock, psychedelic folk, squalling punk noise and winking stoner charm – Easy Ryder, a catchy little number about aliens, opens with the line “they came from the skies; they came to get you high.” Scissor People, on the other hand, might give tokers an attack of paranoia, with its bracing shifts in tone and the second half of the song’s raucously sloppy guitar heroics. Ultimately, the fretwork is a smokescreen; Segall and Fence are all about the groove. Rarely do rockers just let it all hang out, and Hair is proof they should. Dave Morris

CLASSICAL: Accordion Concertos: Schmidt, Symphonic Fantasy and Allegro; Koppel, Concerto Piccolo; Lohse, In Liquid; Norgard, Recall

  • Bjarke Mogensen, accordion
  • Danish National Chamber Orchestra
  • Dacapo
  • Three and a half stars

The accordion is classical music’s black sheep. Per Norgard’s 1960s Recall – an Ivesian farrago of Balkan folk music, syncopated dance rhythms, circus oom-pah and conga drums – celebrates its alien status in the modern symphony orchestra. Ole Schmidt’s neo-classical 1958 concerto tries to ignore it, focusing instead on the traditional confrontation between soloist and orchestra, an old battle joyfully redeemed by the mere presence of the accordion. Anders Koppel’s delightful Concerto Piccolo mixes pop-culture familiarity with comic-book jumpiness, but it has moments of eerie quietude, sending the accordion up into its highest, itchiest register with sidelong glances towards Parisian clichés. We also love the ooze and slide of Martin Lohse’s In Liquid – and a virtuoso performance by the brilliant young Danish accordionist, Bjarke Mogensen. Elissa Poole

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