But Blunderbuss, more than anything that's come before it, crystalizes White's longstanding issues with women. Maybe that's because it's his first-ever solo record, and maybe that's because it comes on the heels of his second divorce, from model Karen Elson. Either way, what it reveals is fascinating—though not pretty.
In one of his first ever on-the-record comments about gender, White told Josh Eells in the New York Times magazine recently that he doesn't want to define roles for the women he knows: "I've always felt it's ridiculous to say, of any of the females in my life: You're my friend, you're my wife, you're my girlfriend, you're my co-worker. 'This is your box, and you're not allowed to stray outside of it.'"
But as White avers in the same interview, he often stretches the truth with reporters, and his statement makes more sense in the context of his music when it's flipped: What White really seems to dislike is when women choose their own boxes. He's a famous control freak, and in his songs, women are constantly threatening his control, forcing him into playing the role of victim. His response? Vitriol.
His White Stripes tracks mostly break down into three loose categories: gallant nursery rhymes ("We Are Gonna Be Friends," "Hotel Yorba"), vague badassery (much of Elephant), and most commonly, passive-aggressive romantic retaliations (just look at the titles: "Why Can't You Be Nicer To Me?", "I'm Finding It Harder To Be A Gentleman," "A Martyr For My Love For You"). Lyrically, White's need for control often takes the traditional trajectory of wanting women to be quiet and submissive. We can see this pattern emerging in Stripes lyrics early on. "Let me see your pretty little smile, put your troubles in a little pile / and I will sort them out for you / I'll fall in love with you / I think I'll marry you," White croons in "Apple Blossom" off 2000's De Stijl. On Get Behind Me Satan, he falls in love with a ghost and half-brags that he's literally the only man who can see her.* But even being too meek is also a sin in White's world. In a scene from the 2007 documentary Under Great White Northern Lights, Jack lashes out at Meg White backstage for speaking too quietly.
What happens when White's women aren't timid—when they themselves try to exert some control? Then, he makes it clear that he can't please them, nor does he care to. When a woman (who may or may not be his mother, according to the song) demands something of him on Elephant's "The Air Near My Fingers," White retorts back, "I never said I wanted to be a man." On "There's No Home for You Here," he sings, "It's hard to look you in the face when we are talking / so it helps to have a mirror in the room." Presumably, the mirror's needed so he can focus back on who really has the power. And on "Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine," the title is a patronizing chide.