SURFACING JUST AS THE INTERNET BEGAN irrevocably transforming the music industry, Jack White appeared a Ghost-Of-Christmas-Past character, cherishing elements of music history by then forgotten or discarded – the blues, garage rock, analogue recording, vinyl-as-artefact – and revitalising them just as the paradigm began to shift. Here was a man who railed against modern inventions like the automobile (The Big Three Killed My Baby), who prided himself on his old-fashioned manners (occasionally masking a similarly old-fashioned chauvinism), and who could knock you up a sturdy coffee table if you asked nicely. And though the electrified sting of his amplified barn-burners might often have overshadowed them, each White Stripes album contained at least a couple of unplugged nuggets that suggested the prematurely curmudgeonly White even considered Michael Faraday’s invention of the electric dynamo an evolutionary step too far. Acoustic Recordings collects the best of those moments from throughout White’s discography, along with several acoustic remixes and one previously unheard White Stripes track; together, shorn of his fiery six-string show-boating and more bombastic vocal tics, these tracks illuminate White as an intriguing and masterful songwriter. Arranged chronologically, Acoustic Recordings opens with Sugar Never Tasted So Good, that understated and sinfully carnal (heavy) breather amid the brutish punk-blues of their debut, followed by the unabashedly Beatlesque Apple Blossom, from second album De Stijl, White boldly serving first notice of his candidacy for finest songsmith of his generation. Along with White Blood Cells’ We’re Going To Be Friends – untarnished childhood innocence preserved in amber – these tracks signalled precious nuance and complexity within White’s nascent rock-star persona.
“This one-time upholsterer is a craftsman like few others.”
The set peaks with tracks from the White Stripes’ 2005 set Get Behind Me Satan, White’s most intriguing and pungent LP. Forever For Her (Is Over For Me) is, lyrically, classic Jack – hurting, lacerating, but still noble – but the deftness of the orchestration (piano, marimba, Meg’s bone-simple, perfect drums) is breathtaking, echoing White’s description of his lover’s parting words: “with the weight of a feather, it tore into me”. Along with the haunted spook of White Moon, the resonant introspection of As Ugly As I Seem, and cherishable outtake City Lights – wistful and vulnerable in ways White rarely risks – these tracks wrought wracked magic from some of White’s darkest days.
But there’s little that disappoints here, even after Jack’s parting of ways with Meg to plot a solo course. These later tracks seem less cathartic, more craftsmanlike than the Stripes’ initial torrent, but as proved by a high-stakes acoustic mix of the Raconteurs’ Caroline Drama or the darkly sharp Love Interruption – which suggests White could easily move sideways into the modern country market – this one-time upholsterer is a craftsman like few others, and his songwriting skills are only more apparent when he turns down the volume and lets his music do the talking.
Watch Jack's introduction to the box set:
Listen to Get Behind Me Satan outtake City Lights here:
And the acoustic mix of The Raconteurs' Caroline Drama: