Jack White is a man who needs no introduction. He revitalized the blues by cross-breeding it with garage rock. He revitalized garage rock by cross-breeding it with the blues. He’s the Willy Wonka of rock music. A nasal-voiced taxidermist with an unorthodox personal life. He’s an eccentric, he’s an enigma. And he’s a cracking guitarist.
In this career-spanning compilation we’re presented with White’s self-proclaimed softer side. But, in typical White style, it’s anything but basic. ‘Acoustic Recordings’ isn’t as unplugged as the title suggests. It’s spearheaded by White’s acoustic guitar, but much of the record has full band backing. Arranged chronologically, the tracks range from unreleased takes, alternate arrangements, and some acoustic-led tracks from White’s previous albums, like Icky Thump’s ‘Effect and Cause’ or White Blood Cells’ ‘Hotel Yorba’, completely identical to their original mixes. It’s a contradictory collection of songs cobbled together around the rough theme of White sans electric guitar.
As you breeze through the semi-familiar soundscape of Jack White’s lighter side, some of the pieces stand out. The two pieces from his Raconteurs era, ‘Top Yourself’ and ‘Carolina Drama’, already roots-tastic in their ‘Consolers Of The Lonely’ releases, are here unleashed in all their gator-baiting fiddle-totting glory. There’s the first official release of ‘Love is the Truth’, White’s Turtles-channelling anthem for Coca Cola from 2006. There’s also the previously unreleased ‘Get Behind Me Satan’ outtake ‘City Lights’, a gentle unplugged Led Zep-style ditty perhaps born of White’s work on the folksy Cold Mountain soundtrack from 2003, represented on the compilation by the tender ‘Never Far Away’.
‘Acoustic Recordings’ is less of a trove of undiscovered gems. A savvy playlist maker could compile much of the content from White’s previous releases. ‘Acoustic Recordings’ is more a skilfully crafted chronicle of Jack White’s relationship with the acoustic guitar. He always has, and continues to, write songs predominantly on acoustic, adding his trademark amplified explosiveness in the studio. So what ‘Acoustic Recordings’ really showcases is eighteen years of Jack White’s creative process. Sure, it’s packaged up neatly, a far more polished affair than Kurt Cobain’s post-mortem demos compilation ‘Montage of Heck’. But from the garage-rock passion of his early White Stripes era to the exquisite craftsmanship of his most recent recordings, you can hear this prolific song-writer’s myriad of influences competing for dominance.
For the hard-core fan or the casual passer-by, this album is best treated like an audio timeline. To trace the thematic twists and turns over White’s eighteen-year career, and to watch an eccentric young songwriter grow into a legend. This is the real reason to listen to this compilation. And, knowing enigmatic Jack, that’s probably intentional.
‘Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016’ is available now on Third Man Records
This Jack White article was written by Matt George Lovett, a GIGsoup contributor