On his first solo album, Mr. White straddles the space between the first-person character songs of the White Stripes and something more personal—without ever quite delivering on either. Mr. Wainwright, on the other hand, confesses as only he can, constructing something larger than life out of life itself.
Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now
A key line from the most moving song on an album full of them: “Here’s another song in C/With my favorite protagonist: me.” There are confessional songwriters, and then there is Loudon Wainwright III, a writer whose candor cuts granite. On his 22nd album, Wainwright wrestles, jokes about, and almost comes to peace with his usual ghosts: the late, great father whose memory still haunts him, the late, great ex-wife he loves and resents in equal measure, and the now-famous kids he wants to get right with before his own greatness becomes late. The difference is that this time, as if realizing no autobiography is a monologue, Wainwright invites family and friends to hash it all out with him. The appearances from Rufus and Martha are heart-rending, as is his take on “Over the Hill,” which he co-wrote with said ex-wife, Kate McGarrigle. But when Ramblin’ Jack Elliot joins him in a plea for a “Double Lifetime,” or Chris Smither helps him sort through a list of friends he doesn’t think should have died before him, he and his like-minded friends turn the personal universal. If I wish he’d cut a few of the campier tracks (“I Remember Sex” is a better title than song), I also concede that those of us who don’t know what it’s like to be older than our old men now (or even what it’s like to be older than Rufus) probably shouldn’t question his inclination to get a few more words in. A-
Jack White: Blunderbuss
The confessionals-cum-tall tales on Jack White’s first solo album remind me of miniature versions of Bob Dylan’s “Isis,” one the many blistering covers the White Stripes regularly worked into their set. Except as tales they aren’t tall enough, and as confessions they aren’t exactly revelatory. If this record has a precedent, it’s the Stripes’ underrated 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan, also a collection of what sound like warped breakup songs—remember, White saw both his marriage and his band end last year. That album was a series of grotesques, and White conveyed genuine hurt without breaking his band’s carefully constructed fourth wall. It also helped that the music was as thorny and immediate as the words. These songs just sort of (hard to believe I’m saying this about Jack White) sit there. He isn’t capable of a total misfire: “Love Interruption” is a fine balance of desperation and mystique, and “Sixteen Saltines” is a blast. No coincidence they were the first two singles. Fearing it was me and not him, I considered the possibility I was taking the album too seriously, but that just made me realize it’s not much fun either. Though White does, at times, comes across as cartoonish in a way he never did when he was dressing in red and white and calling his ex-wife his sister. The way he pronounces “nervous” as “noyvous” on Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’,” sounding like he’s both mimicking and mocking the original, makes me cringe every time. B