Flying solo for success
Barry C Chung
The White Stripes found fame in the 2000s before disbanding last year. Frontman Jack White - on vocals, guitar and keyboards - is considered one of the seminal musicians of the past decade or so. Yet despite his efforts with the band, and his subsequent work with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, he never had a number one album in the US.
Now he does. But it took his solo debut, Blunderbuss, to accomplish the feat.
In its first week of release, the album replaced Lionel Ritchie's Tuskegee atop the Billboard's Top 200. It also topped the charts in Canada, which he never achieved before, and in Britain, where he'd made the top twice.
In part, Blunderbuss came to fruition after rapper RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, stood him up. The pair, along with a Nashville band, had planned on recording some new tracks - but RZA never made it tothe recording session. Not wanting to waste the band's time, White decided to record some songs with them, in effect laying the foundation for Blunderbuss.
The album features White playing with a host of other musicians -19 in all - and playing an assortment of instruments including a double bass, a mandolin, maracas, fiddles, drums and guitars. The album also features back-up vocals in three songs by his ex-wife, Karen Elson, whom he divorced in June last year. Interestingly, many critics have branded the album a 'divorce record' of sorts, since, they claim, it contains many references to Elson and the disbanding of The White Stripes.
White is renowned for keeping his privacy and seldom speaks out. But in a rare exchange via e-mail with AV Club, he counters the 'divorce record' claims as the media's desire to dig up a post-separation angle to his lyrics.
'I think it's very funny that people nowadays still think if you use the word 'I' or 'she' you are talking about yourself or your girlfriend at the time...!' he wrote.
This may just be White side-stepping attempts to label his music. Or he just may be keeping alive the universality of meanings in his songs. He goes on to comment on the power of relationships - both past and present - and the public's reluctance to see separation as anything but negative.
'People have sort of a problem trying to see an end to a situation as being positive or romantic,' he wrote. 'If you're asking if I would be foolish enough, or insulting enough, to write about people in my life that I respect and sell it as a 'break-up song,' I can't imagine doing that to people I love.'
This statement is telling of White's reluctance to let anything but music be the subject of his legacy. He chooses to highlight the art, not the artist. And for that we salute Jack White.