Think Outside the Boombox: Jack White returns with genre-spanning, guitar-slamming “Lazaretto”
Music columnist Patrick McKenna discusses Jack White’s second solo album.
When musicians reach a point in their careers where they’ve trailblazed stylistic paths that millions of followers attempt to recreate, they have the unspoken option of simply recording new music without much new flavor. Take Bob Dylan’s most recent album, “Tempest.” The man changed music forever, so the fact that his thirty-fifth album isn’t quite as powerful as “Highway 61 Revisited” means close to nothing.
Yet Jack White, now nearly seven years away from his last work with The White Stripes, refuses to accept any form of routine-worthy rock. After his fantastic solo debut “Blunderbuss” — which contained fragments of his groundbreaking mix of the dirtiest Delta blues and even dirtier garage rock along with shades of soul-infested country and folk— White supported the album with a monumental tour.
Since then, he’s managed to ruffle the feathers of plethora of musicians, while not losing the love of his devoted followers. After a long dormant period, White has released his second album, “Lazaretto,” through free streaming on iTunes Radio before its official launch June 10.
A wild recipe that blends his trademark garage-blues rock with snippets of dusty saloon-style ballads, fiddle-focused folk rock, and just a touch of aged country blues, “Lazaretto,” much like “Blunderbuss,” is as wide-ranging as it is tight and focused, with excellent precision from each present studio player. It’s got more swagger than most recent rock albums, with White’s always-present charisma leading the way for his rough yet lovely vocals.
One of modern rock’s best storytellers, White kicks off “Lazaretto” with “Three Women,” a tale of juggling ladies, while the song itself juggles bits of modernized blues, raunchy rock, and just a smidge of Southern-style organ and slide guitar. The track works as a reminder and press release, as it holds strong to White’s ties with older-than-grandpa Delta blues, while still expanding his own craft into a joyous explosion of beautifully new rock.
From there, the album contains country ballads sweeter than Nashville-approved sweet potato pancakes (“Alone in my Home” and “Temporary Ground”) chock full of perfectly placed fiddles and old-timey piano, dangerous and vengeful lyrics where White shoves his internal battles down the throats of listeners with an extra kick of spicy guitar (“Would You Fight For My Love?”), and just a little of “Get Behind me Satan”-sounding tale of getting the shorter stick in life (“Want and Able”)
The highpoint off “Lazaretto” lacks any of White’s signature snarky, brilliant wordplay — in fact, there’s no words at all. “High Ball Stepper” has a deliciously catchy instrumental that speaks to the importance of a dandy fuzz pedal in Captain Jack’s world. The song dabbles with piano bits, fuzz-fueled distortion and just a tad of general Jack White-status instrumental chaos.
Without question, this album is a clear sign that Mr. White is still more than kicking, with his voice, lyrics and guitar work expanding in style and skill level. He may have traded out an album of almost entirely fuzz-filled, punk-influenced blues rock. Yet the replacement shows his creative versatility, where he can make a country ditty sound just as raucous as a heavy blues banger. The man deserves your attention, no matter what brand of Jack White he’s sporting that day.