Jack White - Lazaretto Review
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 06.10.2014
Jack White is back with his second solo LP, Lazaretto! But is the bluesy affair a step in the right direction for the former White Stripes frontman or is he stuck too far in the past? 411's Jeremy Thomas checks in with his full review!
1. "Three Women" (3:57)
2. "Lazaretto" (3:39)
3. "Temporary Ground" (3:13)
4. "Would You Fight for My Love?" (4:09)
5. "High Ball Stepper" (3:52)
6. "Just One Drink" (2:37)
7. "Alone in My Home" (3:27)
8. "Entitlement" (4:06)
9. "That Black Bat Licorice" (3:50)
10. "I Think I Found the Culprit" (3:49)
11. "Want and Able" (2:34)
Rock music is in a strange place these days. After spending several years teetering on the edge of proving the old adage that "rock is dead," the genre has been pulling itself back up to prominence over the last few years. But it's been missing something in its war to compete with EDM-influenced pop and the many waves of hip-hop: an identity. Indie rock has blended itself with several disparate genres in order to achieve mainstream success while metal and hard rock hovers just under the surface, navigating the tricky path of staying true to itself while trying to avoid becoming overly serious. These days groups as wide-ranged and disparate as Imagine Dragons, David Bowie, Metallica, Arcade Fire and Nine Inch Nails are all lumped in under the same umbrella of rock music. It has seemed for a while that, with all due respect to the wide-ranging subgenres contained within, rock music has needed to go back to its roots and re-establish its identity.
And that's where Jack White aims to come in. The outspoken and sometimes controversial former frontman of the White Stripes remains a vital part of rock music, an intellectual rocker who lives to take rock in new directions while reviving rock's roots. White took up the mantle of rock and roll scholar on Blunderbuss and he's back to deliver more of the same on Lazaretto, his second LP. It's an album that arrives amidst some well-publicized feuds with the likes of the Black Keys and his ex-wife, and White seems to have been inspired into a fighting mood by the crafting of the album. It's an album that almost seems Neil Young or Lou Reed-ish in its old-fashioned crankiness, laced with blues and country which are of course prime musical grounds for that sort of attitude.
And yet the curmudgeonly attitude never gets compromised by bitterness; this is an active piss-and-vinegar sort of aggression, molded in White's trademarked experimental rock style. On first listen it's striking how bluesy the album really is, although it's not shocking as this has been White's favored palette. The opening track "Three Women" is classic blues, right down to the repetition of "Lordy, lord" throughout and verse structure. You probably won't expect to hear this on rock radio; it lacks the airwave-friendly mass appeal that's needed to make for a radio hit. But it's rock and roll academia, travelling to three of the great holy cities of American music in Los Angeles (okay, California), Detroit and Nashville and saturating them in down-home Southern-style guitar and organ work.
It's not all about the blues though. Before White was trying to drag music listeners back in time, he was the king of garage rock guitar and "Lazaretto" takes us right back there. The title track calls back to the days of the White Strips with crunchy, reverb-heavy funk guitar sounds and electronic squelches punctuating White's razor-edged vocals. It's a song of immediacy, featuring a hell of a guitar solo mid-track that really cuts loose. Then we're style-jumping straight into country rock with Jypsi lead vocalist Lillie Mae Rische joining in for a guitar picking good time. White has said that the songs on Lazaretto are not built to flow one into the other but are instead standalone tracks, each envisioned as a single and you can certainly see that in the genre leaps that they make from track to track. And yet they don't come off as jarring against each other. This isn't White throwing anything he can against the wall to see what sticks; this is an artist with a strong vision for each song and who knows how to assemble them in a way that flows from disparate genre to disparate genre naturally.
It helps that, as befits a musician with an eye for the old-school, each song is able to tell a story in and of itself. "Would You Fight For My Love?" is a great example of that; it builds itself up in tension as if we're prepping for an epic showdown and then shifts gears to a mellower track about being burned by love and wanting to know if your lover will meet you halfway. And then, as if the opening part was a coda it builds itself back up toward that showdown. It's a masterful composition, punctuated by a chorus or raising voices and a simple yet relentless rhythm guitar riff. Even "High Ball Stepper," a purely instrumental track, takes you on a clear emotional journey. It's another great example of White bringing the past forward; outside of interludes, how many instrumental tracks do you hear on major album releases these days? And yet White does it and makes it work.
There's nary a missed beat here on Lazaretto. Even tracks that don't quite stand up in quality to the rest of the album are still very good. "Just One Drink" is a little too flat and conventional for the LP but one its own it's a solid rocking country tune. And "Want & Able," the closing track, is the album's low point but that's all relative. The storytelling is solid but it just doesn't seem to quite fit with the rest of the album. But again, even these misses would be solid tracks on most other albums and to call them bad songs do them a disservice. They simply don't quite hold up to the likes of "The Black Bat Licorice," a funky, harder rocking number that accompanies "Lazaretto" as a direct callback to White's garage roots. In the end even the bad on Lazaretto is pretty damned good.
Standout Tracks: "Lazaretto," "Would You Fight For My Love?," "High Ball Stepper," "The Black Bat Licorice"
Skippable: "Want and Able"
The 411: Jack White soars on his second solo album Lazaretto by virtue of his ability to take rock and roll's past and bring it directly into the present. White pulls from a seemingly-disparate set of rock-adjacent genres to craft a rewarding musical experience, allowing his garage roots to blend with his blues and country sensibilities for one of the most intriguing rock albums in a while. As he continues to move forward in his solo career, Lazaretto provides a hell of a perch from which he can go in just about any direction and it's going to be fun to see where he goes next.