I’ve been a fan of Jack White’s music pretty much from when the rest of the world discovered his talent, after The White Stripes’ “White Blood Cells” was released back in 2001, and have followed his largely impressive career closely ever since, so any new album is always something I look forward to. White started working on the follow-up to 2012’s excellent “Blunderbuss” whilst he was touring his first solo album, taking the inspiration for many of the songs from short stories and plays he wrote when he was a teenager, despite the ridiculous nature of some of them. With a large and varied cast of musicians, “Lazaretto” is a full-sounding album and, although this is an unmistakeably Jack White release, it feels more like the product of a band, rather than the stripped-down sound that was the trademark of most of The White Stripes’ work. Strangely enough, it starts off a little shakily, with White bragging over a bluesy riff played on guitar and organ that he has “Three Women” on the go and the chorus of “Lordy, lord!” repeated over and over again doesn’t help endear it to this listener either. It’s a shame the lyrics are so puerile, because the music behind it is actually quite good; it’s just difficult to switch off from the lyrics and enjoy it on a surface level.
The title track and lead single “Lazaretto” is also a fairly standard blues-riff-based Jack White track and, although thoroughly decent, is an odd choice to promote the album as it’s the sort of thing you’ve heard several times from him before. You could be forgiven, at this point, for thinking the album isn’t going to be anything special. Thankfully, you’d be wrong, as it all gets a whole lot better from then on, with the soulful country leanings of “Temporary Ground”, a duet with Lillie Mae Rische (who also plays a tasty bit of violin) providing the first truly interesting composition of the album. “Would You Fight For My Love” turns the heat up a fraction, with an intense, dramatic introduction leading to a slow-burning, passionate verse that simply explodes into the organ-soaked chorus. The first track to be leaked from the album was “High Ball Stepper”, a raw, dirty instrumental featuring a plethora of guitar sounds which is nigh on impossible to dislike. White channels late sixties/early seventies Rolling Stones on “Just One Drink”, lyrics and all (“You drink water/I drink gasoline/one of us is happy/one of us is mean/I love you/but honey why don’t you love me?”), and this silly, boozy rocker with a touch of country fiddle is a genuine pleasure.
One of my very favourite cuts on the album is “Alone In My Home” which opens with instantly gratifying tumbling, rolling piano. It’s not really like anything else Jack has ever released; it’s bouncy, extremely melodic, almost McCartney-esque and absolutely brilliant. “Entitlement” sees White back in country mode and, whilst a perfectly lovely song, provides the one and only mid-album lull in quality. The sizzling “That Black Bat Licorice” brings the hard riffing back with aplomb, and is reminiscent of his work with The Dead Weather. The grandiose, atmospheric “I Think I Found The Culprit”, on the other hand, could be the soundtrack to a modern western and it builds up to a classy, satisfying climax. The album comes to a close with the charming “Want and Able”, which sounds more like The White Stripes than anything else on the album, albeit one of their more whimsical pieces from later on in the band’s career. It’s a fitting bookend to a wonderfully diverse, creative collection of songs and a more than worthy solo follow-up to the high bar set by “Blunderbuss”. White’s astonishing eccentric musical mind, analogue-loving quirks and all, has resulted in yet another album that fans will find difficult to criticise. I’m not going to go so far to claim that it is the greatest point in his career so far, but it’s certainly up amongst his best work.
Jack White’s “Lazaretto” was released on June 9th (UK) on Third Man Records. Available from all good record shops, if you can find one these day, that is.
Andy Sweeney, 11th June, 2014.