A musician who has always written with decades of experience which simply weren’t there, Jack White is of the most adept guitarists and prolific songwriters of his time. His second solo record is just one more confirmation of such. It’s hard to believe The White Stripes released their eponymous album fifteen years ago but White has earned those years back tenfold. What even is a Lazaretto? A ship permanently secured at anchor or an isolated building (maybe used in the past as Leper colonies) it appears. If this is true, then it seems Jack White understands irony and is fighting the definition with this latest record.
Blunderbuss offered a softer side of his output – roots and blues driving a wedge between his prior musical endeavours, while still maintaining the no-bullshit, dirty rock and roll attitude – but this musical Frankenstein’s monster has two very opposing forces at work at the same time. Dragging the folk genre, however unwillingly, into a world of jarring discord that can only be identified as a Jack White creation. The opening ‘Three Women’ is an affront to the senses and the perfect introduction; the snare taming the raconteur as he tries to escape the grasps of a rhythmic bass and organ accompaniment. One of the strongest moments on the record, it stays in the mind long after the reprise.
The title track appears early and sets the expectations of his folk prowess – the crushing riffs are still present, however delivered in another fashion, and it’s certainly one of the more energetic songs of the contrasting genre. ‘Temporary Ground’ and ‘Alone In My Home’ follow and are a tender, traditional approach to country ballads, sans fancy guitarmanship. Complimented by female vocal lines and violin leads, these tracks will capture you on first listen, mainly due to the vast difference from the side of Jack White you may be accustomed to. Similar tracks such as ‘Entitlement’ and ‘Want and Able’ attempt the same but never reach quite the same height.
One of the more bizarre creations comes in the form of ‘Would You Fight For My Love?’ The opening riff conjures the sound of the Blues Brothers”Rawhide’ and the thunderous rolling drums and the galloping pace of each verse sit behind that chunky guitar sound; Jack even channels his best Robert Plant and doesn’t embarrass himself in doing so. It’s difficult to record a song as peculiar as this, but to place three on the same album…well, it speaks for itself. The others, ‘High Ball Stepper’ (a cheesy instrumental that could have been written by any teenager who just learned power chords) and ‘That Black Bat Liquorice’ simply bring too much to the equation and only lend themselves to confusion.
Don’t expect to enjoy all of Lazaretto on the first, or even second, listen. It argues its case and while Jack White would surely appreciate any support he can muster right now, this record does not beg for attention. It’s songs are filled with minute details that offer poignant reflections at one point and tend to clutter at another. If you trim the fat, you’re left with six amazing songs that define a new era of White’s career. The remaining few while good, will only be ever played a couple of times and shouted by fans that claim the man can do no wrong. Every artist needs those wankers in the crowd too, I guess.