Through a cloud of lingering personal drama and potentially damning press, eccentric-rocker Jack White emerges triumphantly with his second solo album, “Lazaretto.” White, who is well-known for blurring musical boundaries in unpredictable ways, presents an appealing juxtaposition between Detroit blues and rock and Nashville honky-tonk country on “Lazaretto.”
To follow up the success of his first solo album, “Blunderbuss,” White decided to take a new approach to songwriting, making the two albums quite distinct from one another. “Lazaretto” pulls inspiration from a collection of plays White wrote when he was 19 years old and recently rediscovered. Over the course of a year and a half, characters and storylines from White’s 19 year old imagination found homes in each of the album’s 11 tracks.
The album opener, “Three Women” is a funky blues tune in which White fills emotional voids with a woman in every port. The title track follows, providing an electric mash-up of rock and rap reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine as White shows off his guitar prowess and jagged verses. “Lazaretto” also gives listeners the first hint of Nashville influence as the song closes with a wailing fiddle, before leading into “Temporary Ground.”
“Temporary Ground,” along with “Entitlement,” capitalize on traditional country instrumentation and harmonies, but do not commit completely to the genre. On both tracks, White stays true to his distinct vocals, but surrounds them with twang harmonies, pedal steel and fiddle, submitting his own take on country music. A river of sarcasm runs through “Entitlement,” and while it may have been influenced by White’s observations in the mid-90s, lyrics like, “Though the world may be spoiled and getting worse every day, don’t they feel like they cheated somehow,” seem to ring even truer today.
“Would You Fight For My Love?” features intense percussion and eerie howls, but what stands out most is White’s passionate yet panicked vocal performance, implying that perhaps his more recent turbulent relationships weaseled their way into the song. The album’s only instrumental, “High Ball Stepper,” takes listeners on a dark ominous walk through the woods, as a banshee-esque violin hollers underneath White’s lightning rod electric guitar solos.
“Just One Drink” is a fun juke-joint cocktail of blues and country that channels a little Buddy Holly, while “Alone in my Home” ramps up the pop factor with flirty keys and day-dreamy female harmonies, despite the song’s dejected theme of solitude.
“That Black Bat Licorice,” which competes with “Lazaretto” as the album’s top rock and roll track, brings in yet another genre with reggae-like backbeats. With ironic lyrics like, “I want to cut out my tongue and let you hold on to it for me, ‘cause without my skills to amplify my sounds it might get boring,” perhaps White is foreshadowing the need to keep his strong opinions about others to himself, or perhaps not.
“I Think I Found The Culprit” has a dramatic outlaw feel with rock-country flair that peaks and dips throughout the track. The final track, “Want and Able” is like having an angel and devil perched on each shoulder and trying to make a decision. Here, as on many “Blunderbuss” and “Lazaretto” tracks, the keys play a central role in the collective sound of the song. Whether through the buzz of an organ or the tickling of ivories, White’s appreciation for the piano continues to be evident with “Lazaretto.”
Overall, “Lazaretto” translates like a collection of short-stories written by different authors, reaffirming that White’s experimental nature is alive and well in Music City. The album offers listeners a genre clash that could initially feel distracting, but instead keeps ears perked for nuance and surprises around each bend of the chords. The instrumentation, while crazy and impulsive at times, stands tall against the lyrics, proving once again that White is not in it for the songwriting glory, but rather the overall auditory texture of the song.
As White’s personal life and professional opinions continue to stand blazing hot in the media’s spotlight, it is obvious that strong ties will be made to the themes in “Lazaretto.” However, the truth is that while many of the tracks could be interpreted as intimately tied to his current woes, listeners and critics will never quite know whose story White is telling, and in that intention lies the genius that is Jack White.