Jack White, Lazaretto

Typically, with a review on a sophomore record for an artist, you would dive into the differences (or similarities) of what was done on the first record, compare it to the second, and make a judgement call based on whichever one is better. Can you do that with Jack White? Not necessarily. While Lazaretto might be his second full-length solo venture, it’s not like he had to start over as soon as The White Stripes ended. His fan base continued on with him, and it’s likely he gained quite a few fans when Blunderbuss released. The first record for him as a solo artist was indicitive of what we’ve come to expect from White: brash, unadulterated rock, with a heaping spoonful of the experimental.

I was certainly a fan of Blunderbuss, but I’ve been a fan since the White Stripes. Admittedly, I got into the Stripes a bit late (my favorite record from the duo is Icky Thump), but I’ve had the chance to fully embrace what White’s been doing with his solo career, as so many new fans have been able to. Jack is not the type of person that you say “no” to. He’s pretty much going to figure out whatever way possible to do whatever he wants, and I really don’t think he cares what the media or public has to say about his music. He never really has cared that much. He’s just making music. Music he loves making. And that, in and of itself, is the purest form of raw art. Art, for art’s sake.

Lazaretto is different from Blunderbuss. I’ve really sat with the record and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s meant to be heard Side A and Side B, just like on vinyl. Rockabilly country is where my mind goes when I hear the first half of Lazaretto. “Three Women” kicks off the set, and you’ll notice just from this track that it’s more layered than anything from Blunderbuss. Jack is trying new things, and he’s having fun with it. The last minute worth of the track ends in a straight jam, which will likely produce several different live versions, perfect for the concert setting. The title track is classic Jack White, if there can even be such a thing. Quick witted lyricism, vivid imagery, and a solid groove in the back. His guitar work gets better each time around, and while it’s always been messy, it’s more condensed, and the solo in the bridge is like an old friend coming out to play. It gives us exactly what we want from Jack.

High Ball Stepper” surprised me when it was released, mainly because it’s in such a prominent place on the front end of the album, yet there’s no vocals. Jack makes the most out of a messed up guitar effect that ends up being used through the entire nearly 4-minute track. It nearly replaces the need for vocals, and I don’t see a way this track would have worked with any vocals anyway. The softest moment on the first side, “Temporary Ground” will remind most fans of classic White Stripes stripped-style tracks, but there’s a noticable Americana country sound to it. Jack even steps into the theatrical on “Would You Fight For My Love?”, intro-ed by a haunting chorus of “oohs” before the track comes all the way down to a piano ballad verse. By the time the chorus kicks in, Jack’s screaming in such a soulful way it might take some people by surprise.

Just One Drink” has a raw, rock and roll sound to it, and reminds me of Buddy Holly, if he was recording with Jack White in 2014. Bet you’d never thought you’d hear that. Much of the second half of the 11-track album is slower, and more intimate than most from Jack. “Entitlement” is a star for sure, with its country twang and old timey piano sound. The surprise hit for me was “That Black Bat Licorice”, which kicks off with a crazy effect on Jack’s vocals, adding in a grungy guitar beat and some interesting synth layering all the way through. “Want and Able” is an emotional piano ballad, and it’s best heard in headphones so you can really get both sides. Recorded in the left and right sides differently, in your left ear you can hear Jack singing one way, and his overdub is in the right side. It gives you a deep direction of the story told within the track.

After listening to an interview with Jack on NPR’s All Songs Considered, one of the more poignant things I realized with Lazaretto is the characters he writes into his songs. While most artists (particularly in the singer/songwriter genre) write from their personal experiences and the collective “I” and “we” are usually them, Jack doesn’t really write that way. He’s focused on the characters who are living out his songs. He continuously referred to the characters in “Want and Able” as wanting different things, and I think it’s a refreshing look on how to write songs. It’s brilliant, in many ways, and Jack spent much more time on Lazaretto than he ever has with any other recording, even with the White Stripes. So there’s much more depth, and you might never listen to Lazaretto the same way twice.

Justin Mabee