17 June 2010

The Best New Album of the Year, Ever: What's All the Hustle and Fuss?

Guys, check out how awesome I am at talking out my ass.
What's All the Hustle and Fuss?, or Why I'm Sad I Don't Get to Play the Blues
As a music reviewer— self-established as I may be— I am nevertheless obligated to spew fountains of adoration and praise for everything that Jack White touches. Even Meg White, even though she drums like Ringo Starr at age 8 and doesn't look as cute in pigtails as you'd hope. (As it turns out, neither does Ringo Starr at any age, so there's that, I suppose).

As it turns out, The Dead Weather's new album, Sea of Cowards, is pretty damn good. Great sound, great mix, great songwriting, etc. I find myself listening to it and wondering why Jack White is playing drums and not guitar. And while I quite like Dean Fertita, he wasn't in a movie about revolutionary guitar players. Some would argue White didn't deserve to be in It Might Get Loud at all, but that's not what I'd like to talk about here.

What I'd like to address is how Jack White will never play the blues, which is depressing. In It Might Get Loud, White cites a song by Son House titled "Grinnin' in Your Face" as his favorite tune. It involves Son House singing and not much else. I think Jack White was being more honest in that moment, at least musically, than he ever has been. Clearly, he loves that song, and he also realizes he will never, ever, be able to play it, no matter how much he wants to.

With the White Stripes, White simplified his playing and the songs relied on riffs and repeating rhythms, not unlike Son House's music. They even covered a song written by Son House on De Stijl. Every time I listen to the White Stripes, I get the impression that Jack White wishes he had been in prison for 15 years, like Son House was, just so he could play the blues the way Son House did. Instead, he dressed in gimmicky reds and whites and played entire concerts consisting of a single note, which, let's face it, is both pretentious and a cheat.

When he played with The Raconteurs (or Saboteurs, depending on where and when you bought their first album), Jack White lost the simplicity of the White Stripes, but gained a greater dynamic range, which I think is totally OK. It's more than OK, because I think the Raconteurs are awesome. But I don't think they're a blues band, even though the album design on Consolers of the Lonely is staged in such a way to make you think that's the case. With the Raconteurs, Jack White switched out the gimmicky visual aesthetic of the White Stripes for something bluesy, but it's deceptive; the music changed in the opposite direction.

Now Jack White plays drums for The Dead Weather. The aesthetic, I guess, is somewhere between the two. There's some theatrical aspect to it, like with the White Stripes, only darker. Maybe we can call it the goth blues aesthetic. Anyway, the music, I think, is lot more bluesy. Lots of space, lots of sweat, lots of energy and enough sorrow and anger to feel about right. Except that Jack White is playing drums. It's like he takes a step closer to playing the blues, but something else shifts and he's just as far away.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I think it's sad how self-aware Jack White is. It seems to me like he wants to play the blues, and it's the only thing he's ever really wanted. Except his consciousness of the fact that he lacks the life experience needed to really play the blues keeps getting in the way. Instead, White keeps posing as a blues guy, whether in the music or in the look of his various projects, and he knows all the while that he's just not a blues guy.

This is what Sartre calls "bad faith"— living as a person you are not— but it's also why I can't accuse White of inauthenticity. If he didn't seem cognizant of his condition, maybe I could make the accusation, but in this case, I can't bring myself to do it, even though every single music-reviewer/hipster cell in my body really wants to. No, Jack White is in this sense the saddest man in rock and roll. So, cheer up, Jack. At least now you have a reason to play the blues.

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