The White Stripes — the candy-coated, Delta blues-worshipping duo responsible for some of the 2000s' greatest rock albums — recently broke up. Fans across the world wept, but I ask: what's there to miss? Did you really love the sound of Meg White's hollowed-out bass drum? Like the group's pawnshop guitars and arbitrary engineering, Meg's caveman-like percussion functioned as a creative obstacle — one, admittedly, that often brought the best out of Jack's songwriting (and his pan-seared, white lightning solos and riffs). Jack got way more mileage out of his first band than anyone could have expected. But as the subtle experimentation crept in (Get Behind Me Satan and Icky Thump), along with side projects and outside production work, it became clear that White needed more than what the creative parameters of the White Stripes would allow.
Blunderbuss, the first album he's released under his own name (and his most compelling collection of songs in years), is the sound of White — with a team of session players that includes drummer Carla Azar of Autolux and guitarist Olivia Deen from his live band — freeing himself from his sonic shackles, exploring any and all sounds that waft through his brain and tickle his fingers. In Jack-of-All-Trades mode, he journeys through raw blues, country, folk, and soul (complete with chipmunk-like female backing vocals). "Freedom at 21" sports a mighty, Zeppelin-esque riff, a reliably raunchy guitar solo, and hip-hop-styled drums. On stirring single "Love Interruption," White sounds possessed, offering, "I want love to murder my own mother" over folky strums, smoky Wurlitzer, and — what? — a clarinet. Most stunning is "On and On and On," a dreamy psych-soul jam built on rippling tremolo, oceans of piano, and droning bass. Boxing yourself in can be creatively fruitful — but so can the opposite.