Jack White has had a busy last year in the public for all the wrong reasons: he dissed fellow bluesman Dan Auerbach, ripped on his old bandmate Meg White and many others in Rolling Stone, and got divorced from his wife Karen Elson. After all the media mess, Jack White delivered a really classy apology on his website for all the comments and now looks to make the music the center of attention once again with his second solo album Lazaretto. Like his first solo album Blunderbuss, which all three of us praised in 2012, Jack White delivers an overall package like no other: master songwriter, guitarist, and jack of all genres, even ones as odd as reggae rap rock.
Beside a couple really amped up tracks, this is undoubtedly Jack White’s most melancholy and angry record, and it’s the sorrowful songs that are Lazaretto’s best. The more swaggering tracks like “Three Women”, “Lazaretto”, and “That Black Bat Licorice” are among my least favorite on the album, partially because I think he did these heavy-duty rocker songs better on Icky Thump. “High Ball Stepper” is the exception though and upon release, was instantly an all-time great instrumental-only track.
Apart from “High Ball Stepper”, three ballads are of particular note on Lazaretto. “Temporary Ground” is among Jack White’s best written songs ever, with sort of an existential look at life and how futile it seems as times. “Entitlement” similarly is social commentary on the state of the world today (particularly the youths) and how we “take like Caesar, and nobody cares.” While there is no doubt some truth of White’s words, he sings with such piety and pride that he would “never take without penance” that it sort of destroys the otherwise truthful spirit of the song. Finally, closer “Want And Able” opens with a strange sample of crows before kicking into a wonderful ballad Jack White self-described as a civil rights song of sorts: a simple song that showcases White’s uncanny way with words and sound. It’s a pleasant closer for another great Jack White album, although not anywhere close to his best.
Jack White is a blues musician who throughout his career has infused blues music with a diverse group of genres. The classic blues riffs Jack White has borrowed from are often so angled up in genre-bending elements that the entire riff comes out a unique creation. I think the problem with the harder charging tracks Wes mentions above is that the classic pieces used by White are dressed up to try to sound different, but are not innately so. I still enjoy every one of these tracks, but Wes is correct, they have all been done better before.
So it is the more country oriented and piano-based tracks that shine on Lazaretto. From the lilting fiddle on “Temporary Ground” to the building chorus of “Alone in my Home”, White is best suited as singer-songwriter on this one. I once again will have to agree with Wes that this is best exemplified on album closer “Want and Able”. Sorry if I sound like a broken record but I feel very close to Wes when it comes to this particular album. Lazaretto is an ever so small step back from Blunderbuss, but is a very good album that approaches greatness often.
I have to disagree with both Austin and Wes here. Not on their overall love for the album, but for the parts of the album they are praising and parts they are overlooking. In my opinion, “Three Women”, “Lazaretto”, and “That Black Bat Licorice” all serve as tent poles for the album along with “High Ball Stepper”. I love the “softer side of Jack” tracks on Lazaretto, especially “Temporary Ground” and “Entitlement”, but they are both very basic tracks. “Entitlement”, intellectually speaking in regards to lyrics is in a higher class of song, but musically the style is more of a basic campfire sing-a-long.
I can see being caught off by the album opener “Three Women” initially, because the lyrics are a bit goofy. But it does a great job of slowly building energy as an opener, and by the second round of “Lordie, Lord” choruses, I was screaming “Lordie, Lordie, Lordie, Lord!” right along with Jack. I love it. And it is beyond me where the complaints about a song like “Lazaretto” would come from. This is classic Jack. Thick guitar rhythm behind a screaming lead, with catchy aggressive lyrics about a poor quarantined man that is still in confidentially high spirits. I could write a few paragraphs about this song alone, it deserves some better treatment than “he did it better on Icky Thump“, but we are already a bit long-winded. Suffice it to say, I also feel similar to “That Black Bat Licorice”.
Overall I feel he is really trying to hone in on that southern style blues even more than ever. Especially in his slower and more piano-based tracks. And I think on the whole it works. However, as a result we get a lot more repetitiveness, which is my only complaint on the whole of Lazaretto. I get the privilege to see Jack this weekend at Bonnaroo, and I have to say, I am ecstatic to see a few of these tracks come alive.
Can’t Hit: None Agreed