Two years ago, I reviewed Jack White’s debut solo album Blunderbuss, which went on to do very well and score the number one spot in both the UK and US album charts. Jack has now returned with the follow-up and its name is Lazaretto. Based on stories and plays that Jack wrote in his late teens, the album is a rather haphazard record with twists and turns around every corner. On discovering his writing again, Jack said:
“Some of it’s garbage and I sort of laughed while I was reading it. I was going to throw away a bunch of it, but I was just coming up with new styles of attacking songwriting for the album.”
The former White Stripes frontman has never been one to fit into any particular genre and Lazaretto is no different. Elements of jazz, blues, alternative rock, country and electronica are all present on this album and as a result, the songs are diverse and totally unpredictable. The title track was released as a single back in April and it is a great introduction to the distorted nature of the record. A frantic vocal delivery and dark screaming riffs give way to a lone guitar and electronic whizzes halfway through. The violins squeal before the whole thing slowly collapses and comes to an end. However, the subject matter deals with a totally different style of music and culture. Speaking of the lead single, Jack said:
“This was a rhyme about the braggadocio of some hip-hop lyrics -the bragging about oneself in hip-hop music. The character who’s singing this song is bragging about himself, but he’s actually bragging about real things he’s actually accomplished and real things that he actually does, not imaginary things or things he would like to do.”
The mismatched effect is continued on instrumental track High Ball Stepper and whimsical carnival tune That Black Bat Licorice. The former is full of glitchy sparks, fuzzy rock and haunting whines and screams. With no vocals, it’s all about creating a scene without a story and it certainly does evoke a number of feelings. That Black Bat Licorice is a big show tune which cuts between loud and tricky jazz blasts and shining electro-rock whines. The instrumental hook is catchy and will no doubt have you tapping your toes right away.
Retro showtime is a big theme on this album as the opening track Three Women (based on a track by ragtime blues singer Blind Willie McTell) and Just One Drink also heavily feature sounds from years gone by. Three Women is the story of a man who has three very different women to choose from set to a jaunty bass and jazz background. Just One Drink features the voice of Lillie Mae Rische which mingles well in harmony with Jack. It’s a summer road trip anthem that has a funky piano and a sensual vocal delivery.
Favouring the spooky side of things is Would You Fight For My Love? and I Think I Found The Culprit. Would You Fight For My Love? has tribal drums, a dark piano and haunting vocals and electronic chimes. I Think I Found The Culprit is full of foreboding and surreal harmonies that create a ghostly aura. Simple shimmers of electronica really sends shivers down the listener’s spine and brings the temperature right down.
Plenty of glimpses of Jack’s love of country and blues music are on Lazaretto. Alone In My Home, a simple upbeat jazz-piano led track about savouring time to yourself, has a lot of clear country influence. Entitlement is also led by a simple country guitar and Jack’s voice takes on an undeniable rodeo twang. Lillie Mae Rische is also responsible for the folksy sounding fiddle on many of these tracks, which really give them a lot of quirky character.
Perhaps my favourite track comes right at the end of the album. Want And Able is a simple ballad that appears to be weeping as it tells a heartbreaking story about the difference between desire and possibility. It’s a story we all know so well and have come across in our own lives very often. Jack describes it beautifully and the fact that all that is required is a soft piano and swaying melancholy rhythm adds so much weight to it.
I’m not as big a fan of Lazaretto as I was of Blunderbuss. I’ve never loved the screechy sounds of jazz but I do love all the whimsy and wackiness of the album. I think I might have enjoyed it better if I’d read Jack’s stories from which these songs came from because I’m definitely not crazy about the production. However, there will be those of love it, so pick it up if you love something rooted in blues and retro jazz but still completely unique.