Sound — 7
Jack White: Coming to a State Fair near you?
"Lazaretto," the second solo release from the former White Stripes front man, swings the saloon doors open to find Jack sitting at an old cabinet grand with a piece of straw in his mouth and a tip jar by his side as he attempts to blur the lines between rock, country, ragtime… and pretty much any other genre he feels like playing.
His customary DigiTech Whammy pedal and Gretsch White Penguin guitar have been largely put into mothballs for much of this album, in favor of fiddles and piano. The result is a very impressive offering that showcases the all-encompassing skill and creativity of one of the genuinely generation-defining musicians of the past twenty years, however, that does not mean that all of his devoted fans will devour it the same way they did his garage-rock blues sound.
This album is not for everyone, and it does threaten to alienate listeners who think they are in for 12 tracks that will be similar to the album title-sharing single, "Lazaretto." Other than "That Black Bat Licorice," and the instrumental "High Ball Stepper," the entire album diverges sharply from that classic "Icky Thump" or "Blue Orchid" style to deliver an album that, for all intents and purposes, probably should not be categorized in the rock section of your local music store (assuming you can still find a local music store).
In many ways, Jack has always been an anachronism amongst today's over-produced, technology-reliant musicians, but he has never ventured so far away from center as he does here. His first solo album "Blunderbuss" did warn listeners that Jack was not bound to continue to make White Stripes albums forever, but even it offered more places for rock fans to find their musical oasis.
In many ways, "Lazaretto" feels like a country album bent through the musical lens of Jack White aesthetics. Music fans should not fear this change, as the resulting tracks are good, but they should be warned as to what type of sound they have signed up to hear.
Lyrics — 7
It will be rare to find a songwriter with more creativity and sharply written lyrics than Jack White. A perfect example of his writing prowess can be heard with lines from "That Black Bat Licorice" such as, "I want to cut out my tongue and let you hold onto it for me/ Cause without my skull to amplify the sounds it might get boring."
The problem some listeners may have with the album is not the lyrics, but rather the delivery of many lines. With the slight variations in genre, Jack croons a much more country-sounding twang to many of his lines.
Certain stanzas also receive the classic repetitive echo of a genre-staple call and response, such as the line from White's re-imagining of the Blind Willie McTell tune "Three Women" as he sings, "I got three women/ red, blonde and brunette. Yeah, I got three women/ red, blonde and brunette," and "I'm lonely at night/ but I stay up until the break of day. Yeah, I'm lonely at night/ but I stay up until the break of day." The same can be said for the song "Just One Drink" with lines such as, "I love you/ honey why don't you love me, Yeah, well I love you/ honey why don't you love me?"
This style does stay true to the genre, but, unfortunately, caused my attention to wane and left me searching for the skip button a few times.
Overall Impression — 5
I am as big a Jack White admirer as there exists - without the need for a musical restraining order - yet much of "Lazaretto" was lost on me. While I appreciate the skill it takes to plays multiple instruments in multiple genres, the overall direction of his more country-sounding style simply does not appeal to me as much as when he takes those elements but leaves them inside of a rock tune.
For me, the most impressive songs on the album are "Lazaretto," "The Black Bat Licorice" and "Alone in My Home." Aside from those songs, I can't say much of the rest of the album will get a lot of playtime with me.
I wanted more from "Just One Drink," as the ingenious use of two separate electric or acoustic intro options on the vinyl offering made it one I was eager to check out, yet the repetitiveness of the song made me quick to abandon it. The same too can be said for the song, "Would You Fight for My Love," which may contain some of the best lyrics on the album, yet the music comes and goes in patches with much of the song left too sparse, and when it feels like it may be ready to break open, it retreats back and never truly become what I hoped it would.
"Lazaretto" is a very competent album that is sure to garner critical praise and adoration from fans of this genre of music, but, at least for me, I'm still left waiting for him to come to his senses and reunite The Raconteurs, which I still feel is when Jack White is at his best.