I may as well say it right up here: I adore Jack White. Solo, White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather, you name it. Since his 2012 solo debut Blunderbuss, I’ve been waiting with little patience for the release of Lazaretto.
The thing you gotta remember, is that Jack White is Jack White. Lazaretto isn’t breaking into any crazy new ground or anything, but it doesn’t need to.
Interestingly, White revealed that many of the lyrics for this album were actually snippets from plays and journals that he’d jotted down nearly two decades ago. “I thought, what if I collaborated with my 19-year-old self?”
As we learnt from Blunderbuss, White’s solo work is remarkably more refined and produced than his work with bands. Lazaretto showcases a variety of styles, tones and tempos, and they wax and wane in a perfectly balanced manner. Sure, I had to listen to a few tracks multiple times to get a feel for them, but there are no dull moments, and certainly no filler tracks.
Track by track review of Lazaretto.
What a way to kick off the album. Punchy riffs, the always-great organ and of course, the lyrics: “I got three women, red, blonde hair and brunette, I take a digital photograph to see which one I like.”
I love how extroverted and bluesy this song is. And he wastes no time in addressing any judgements you’ve already made; “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, what gives me the right?
Well, these women must be getting’ something, ‘cause they come and see me every night.”
Title track and first single, Lazaretto, is next. Those drums thrash and crash, the bass is furious and heavy. This is song is more exciting every time I hear it. And what about those solos? Not only are we treated to a wailing guitar solo, but the track finishes off with some seriously screamin’ violin. Nice.
The violin brings us back in, but it’s calmer, more collected. Temporary Ground is soft but not delicate, and has a very Nashville country folk-vibe, particularly with the twangy female backing vocals. It’s a wistful ballad filled with some great poetic imagery; “Moving without motion, screaming without sound, across an open ocean, lying there on temporary ground.”
Would You Fight for My Love?
Oh my. Those opening rumbles. Easily one of the best moments on the album. It’s a tale, once again, about the toils of a broken relationship. During this track, White really indulges in his signature contrasting of musical extremes – those high pitched vocals and piano chords soar above the crunching bass, way down below.
The anthemic chorus reminds us of what made Jack White famous in the first place – his uncanny ability to create these unbelievably banging rock n’ roll riffs that are simple, catchy and just so damn good.
High Ball Stepper
I LOVE that there’s an instrumental track on Lazaretto. And holy hell, it rocks. This song is simply an ode to the guitar. Structure-wise, it’s fairly simple. But the bluesy riffs get wilder, heavier and more distorted, blasting through this funky, frantic track. I imagine it’s the kind of track that, when played live, will include an eight minute blues jam. Bring it on.
Just One Drink
Just One Drink is a clear homage to White’s late, great influences – specifically, Howlin’ Wolf’s I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline), referenced in the very first line, “You drink water, I drink gasoline.”
The simple rhymes and the standard bluesy structure, with just a pinch of garage-punk, is boot-stompingly fun. A romping hootenanny of a track.
Alone in my Home
Alone in my Home is another heartfelt ballad. Beautiful harmonies and trickly top-heavy piano licks create the closest I’ve heard to a straight up pop song on Lazaretto.
It seems like a pretty bittersweet track, considering lyrics like, “I’m becoming a ghost so nobody can know me.” Yet when he sings, “All alone in my home, nobody can touch me,” it’s less sad; he’s relishing his solitude.
Entitlement is an absolutely gorgeous Nashville track with a balmy island vibe somehow added in there too. And that mandolin is so wonderful. It’s actually a really bitter track, though; “There are children today who were lied to, told the world is rightfully theirs. They can have what they want, whenever they want, they take like Caesar and nobody cares. ” It took me a couple of listens to enjoy this song, but I really, really do.
Black Bat Licorice
This is my favourite track. This song was penned by White’s 19-year-old self, and it’s so raw, with a totally nostalgic White Stripes feel. The syncopated vocals come close to rapping at times, and the lyrics are genius. “Yeah, she’s build for speed like a black castrum doloris, good for the needy, like Nietzsche, Freud and Horace,” he hollers. Amazing!
I also really love the call and response between lyrics and music. He sings, “I wanna cut out my tongue… ‘cause without my skull to amplify my sounds it might get boring,” and the music responds with some heavy, heavy distortion. And, later, “That black bat licorice, I never liked it, I never will, now state the same damn thing with the violin,” after which comes, you guessed it, a fucking sweet violin jam.
I think I found the culprit
A really atmospheric track with a Western vibe, this is a strange allegorical tale. “Birds of a feather may lay together, but the uglier one is always under the gun,” he repeats over and over, as the music builds up. And that fiddle. It’s always the best part.
Want and Able
A strange and bittersweet fable closes the album. A ‘moral of the story’ type thing. “Well, Want and Able were crossing the road, Want had a feeling there was something he was owed. But Able broke it to him that there’s a social code, so walk straight down the middle now, and do what we’re told.”
Sad, but lovely.
All in all this is another great Jack White record. And while it’s clear that my favourite tracks are the heavier, messier ones, there are no dull moments. It’s everything I expected, and I’m totally satisfied with that. Now we just have to sit back and wait for tour dates to be announced…