It’s been two years since his first solo offering, and after a break of tearing up festival stages across the world, Jack White’s return comes in the form of his highly-anticipated second studio offering, Lazaretto.
Mathematically speaking, Jack White’s ventures and projects as a solo artist should only be half as good as those crafted with The White Stripes, as the absence of his ‘other half’ was seemingly alarming at first. However, after his robust, compelling debut solo project Blunderbuss, these numbers failed to add up. White’s first solo album was brilliant and beefy, just missing the mark on a few occasions but still existing as one of 2012’s best rock albums, having all the accolades, Grammy’s, MTV VMA’s, Brit’s, you name it, and critical acclaim to support it.
After a couple years on the quiet side of the industry and lots of involvement and activity on festival stages, White’s next offering to the universe came just days ago in the form of Lazaretto, his second solo album through his own Third Man imprint (through XL Recordings, Columbia respectively). Lazaretto is highly energetic while being both manic and personal, yet offers a lot less of a razor-cut rock vibe than its predecessor. White’s second album boasts a much more exuberant and charmed sound than the reflective, self-loathing Blunderbuss, while also drawing on much more eclectic influences. The playful, westernized jingles of “Just One Drink” and “Alone in My Home” reflect tones of a bluesy, country inspired pallet and then tracks like “Want and Able” repeat this to death, sounding like a nursery rhyme over a banjo. Moments like this is where this album’s shortcomings are most painfully obvious; White is boldly experimenting with new instrumentation and progressions, sometimes even over gospel or folk-ish background vocals, (“Would You Fight For My Love?”, “Entitlement”), but these risks seem to fall short more often than not and it ends up diluting the project and ultimately dragging it down.
Still, Lazaretto sits at eleven tracks and approximately 39 minutes, so there isn’t a whole lot to lose here. We are gifted with glimpses of Jack White’s staple sound, through the sharp, screeching guitars on “Lazaretto”, the witty and daring lyrics of “The Black Bat Licorice”, and are even happily surprised when his experimentation pays off with the multi-dimensional, layered album opener, “Three Women”. “High Ball Stepper” also exists as an excellent hybrid that actually doesn’t contain any lyrics at all. It is almost four-minutes of a groove-driven jam session with build-ups and eruptions of energy. The home-runs of Lazaretto, however, are far from formulaic or familiar for White’s taste. In fact, the scattered, schizophrenic and abstract sounds proves to be just the top layer of Lazaretto after a few listens, as the lyrical content of the album is profound, witty and complex, which is not necessarily new for a White project, but it is done daringly and refreshingly under his signature humour and intrigue.
Lazaretto is rib-rattling, confident, and risky, and is the most dramatic, conventional project Jack White has ever put out. It is an exciting, fruitful listen, but is traditional and typical, which are two words not usually associated with White’s catalogue. From the varied moments of western and folk instrumentation to the sweeping country melodies all layered with White’s piercing lyrics and musings, this second record is almost the minimalist, simplistic sound of The White Stripes flipped on it’s head. The real risk Lazaretto runs, though, is drawing the line between established and mundane; a line frequently skipped over and back upon through all eleven tracks. Still, Jack White’s second swing at the solo plate proves to be more than a worthy-listen with its fair share of highlights and quotables, and is a cutting reminder that Jack White’s average is still well above average.