An artist worthy of deeper exploration - but is there anything new here?
Cai Trefor
10:05 8th September 2016

I grew up with an unhealthy obsession of The Beach Boys' 'Pet Sounds Sessions' - the box set album released in the 90s which broke down each complex, layered song of the band's most celebrated album and allowed the listener to really come to terms with the genius Brian Wilson had at his disposal as he built those gargantuan vocal, strings and percussion tracks from the ground up. You discovered mistakes inaudible on the original, or lyrics you'd previously all misheard - all of which (for me anyway) helped compound the mysticism and wonder surrounding the original record.

 

The output of Jack White, be it in White Stripes, Raconteurs or solo form, has never been about meticulous studio craft and complex multi-tracking. He's a straight up songwriter, a performer, a maestro guitar player and a storyteller with a turn of phrase that gives us such lyrical gems as "in some respects I suspect you've got a respectable side". But he is also an enigma. He thinks and acts in unusual ways sometimes, which can make an artist become all the more fascinating and worthy of deeper exploration.

So, with this new Acoustic Recordings album I was looking forward to some insights into the writing and recording techniques behind White's portfolio, just like I did with 'Pet Sounds Sessions'. Maybe a demo version of 'Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground' which helps you discover a new tenderness to the 'White Blood Cells' stomper? Or what about a take of 'Hello Operator' where the lyrics contain some ad-libbed dirty joke have which has since been removed? Or simply an acoustic guitar flourish you'd not noticed, buried under the other instruments of the original?

Sadly no such luck. Whilst the collection of songs here is mostly brilliant, and might tempt a fair-weather White fan - normally used to the pan pots crashing sound of his louder hits - to discover his tenderer, more acoustic moments, it won't deliver anything new to those who own Jack White's albums......or have a Spotify account.

Early beauties like 'Apple Blossom' and 'Sugar Never Tasted Good' sound nice enough having had a minimal remix treatment, but one can only presume the techniques used to record those early albums make it impossible to pull out the separate tracks for these new versions. Later on the collection, the songs benefit more from a remix - The Raconteurs number 'Top Yourself' is given a new lease of life with the many overdubbed electric guitars removed. But on the whole, not much new here, disappointingly.

Musicianship aside, the other talent under White's sleeves in recent years has been running his forward-thinking independent record label Third Man Records. They have released records on liquid-filled vinyl, on triple decker vinyl (a 7" within a 12") and have been known to randomly send out vinyls by mail to unsuspecting recipients. So, for 'Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016' you'd have been forgiven for expecting a vinyl that comes as a jigsaw, which - once you've pieced it together - you have to let sun-dry out in a Midwest prairie for ten years before you're able to play the unheard collection of rare cuts and lost gems picked up off the edit room floor of White's illustrious career. But instead, we have a collection of great tracks, most of which you can find in almost exactly the same form on any good streaming platform.