After years in groups such as the White Stripes, Jack White is stepping out as a solo star.
“Blunderbuss,” out today, is as weird and intriguing as White himself, the main man behind the White Stripes as well as Raconteurs and Dead Weather.
The CD has many of the crazed guitar licks that have made White one of indie rock’s biggest stars. For all this, it’s less a continuation of previous work, and more a genuine surprise.
This is White’s divorce record, and he has been battered. He mixes metaphors in the lyrics, maintaining he has had his fingers broken, feet severed and face bashed. It’s a wonder that despite these wounds White manages to be as prolific as Prince, Jimi Hendrix or David Bowie at their peaks.
Instead of retreating to a Swiss clinic, White seems to live in dark recording studios and clubs (witness his fashionably gothic pallor). While this work ethic might not have helped his marriage, we can savor the results on tracks such as “Weep Themselves to Sleep” where White rants to a piano tune before a guitar solo as mind-blowing as 1960s Frank Zappa.
White seems to be making a habit of working with his former spouses: His first wife was drummer Meg White, who he continued working with in the White Stripes, and this album features U.K. model Karen Elson, the source of his latest divorce blues, who nonetheless turns up on backing vocals.
The brew of blues, jazz, Bob Dylan and Led Zeppelin is sometimes too much as White shows off his versatility. If he learns to slow down a little, he could go far. Rating: ****.
Norah Jones’s fifth studio album “Little Broken Hearts” is the polar opposite of White’s.
Her smooth vocals are ideal for a quiet evening cocooning before an early bedtime, hence the nickname “S’Norah Jones.”
This made the recent White-Jones collaboration on the “Rome” LP all the more unexpected. The project led to Jones meeting producer Brian Burton, better known as Danger Mouse, who now helms the latest release, pushing her into new territory.
Jones’s dinner-jazz sound worked well on “Come Away With Me,” which shifted more than 20 million copies. That style went stale, and now she has pop synthesizers and an upbeat attitude.
Like White, she has made a breakup album, with plenty of angst and anger. Still, this is a lot better than her last attempt at the same, “The Fall” in 2009, which was full of sob stories about her split from bassist Lee Alexander. Rating: ***.
Santi White (no relation to Jack) has been struggling to play down expectations after her impressive 2008 disc was hyped to the heavens and lauded by critics. That was released under the name Santogold. She’s back -- under the slightly revised name of Santigold -- with “Master of My Make-Believe.”
She hasn’t rushed this. The first single, “Go!,” was released a year ago. The song, featuring Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, is the lead track and comes with crashing beats that suggest greatness will follow. It doesn’t.
Instead, we get half-baked rants about fame and an M.I.A.- like dance vibe that’s supposed to sound menacing. “Go!” is about the best thing here. What a letdown. Rating: **.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
The Jack White album is released today on Third Man/ XL Columbia. Santigold, on Atlantic, is out in the U.K. now and in the U.S. next week. Both titles are priced about $10.
The Norah Jones record, on Parlophone/Blue Note, is out on May 1 and already streaming at NPR and elsewhere. Download fees vary across services. Information: http://jackwhiteiii.com/, http://www.norahjones.com/index.php or http://santigold.com/
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s Muse highlights include: Manuela Hoelterhoff on Pablo Heras-Casado; Jeremy Gerard on Broadway. See more music reviews and writing by Mark Beech.