Two years after the pleasant surprise of Blunderbuss, Jack White is at it once again, releasing his second solo album: Lazaretto. With The White Stripes becoming more of a distant memory, and The Raconteurs still unlikely to reform soon, White’s solo venture gains even more weight as his main creative output, and it’s clear right away that he intends to stick to the format. Recruiting many of the same musicians that worked on the previous record, he’s made some significant changes this time around, and the results are in line with what we’ve grown to expect from him.
Opener Three Women seems to pick up where Blunderbuss closing track Take Me With You When You Go left off, then takes it up to another level. That particular kind of multifaceted jam is what dominates most of Lazaretto: wonderfully odd song structures, solos when you least expect them, multitracked vocals, and more instruments than you can count at first. That concept is taken further with the title-track, which utilizes a near-hip-hop beat to astounding success, and the gorgeous Would You Fight For My Love? (a clear standout), already setting this up as a mostly unpredictable record.
The lyrics of the opening track also give a taste of what’s in store here: The song’s subject (almost certainly not White himself) literally boasts about having three women at his will, who “must be getting something / ‘Cause they come and see me every night.” Later, he states, “And like the dough I don’t fall down / I’m so Detroit I make it rise from the ashes,” giving a certain cockiness to the words. When the album reprises some of the themes of conflict from Blunderbuss, it’s usually through this point of view, rather than that of a victim, but the attitude is far from being overbearing. If anything, the cockiness is only marginally more obvious than it was in songs written ten years ago.
It’s hard to refer to this as a “second” album, given that it’s White’s twelfth overall LP as a songwriter, though it really falls into the mold of a successful sophomore effort. Where Blunderbuss sometimes felt like an experiment, going in a lot of directions to see what worked best, Lazaretto is where the solo gig truly comes into its own, cutting down on some unnecessary detours, but still maintaining variety. The songwriting here also feels at home with the more complex and intricate arrangements performed by White’s multiple collaborators – who he took on the road with him the last time around, and surely developed better chemistry with.
Though it’s unarguably a tighter and more focused package, Lazaretto suffers from the one issue that hindered a section of Blunderbuss: slower, less exciting tracks bogging down the second half. The country-infused sequence that goes from Just One Drink to Entitlement nearly brings the record to a halt, and it makes for a low-point in an otherwise great package. Fortunately, the heavier songs are more abundant and evenly spread out on Lazaretto than they were on Blunderbuss. Instead of having a Sixteen Saltines-ish second track to act as the heaviest thing here, it builds up to the insane instrumental centerpiece High Ball Stepper, and picks up the pace again on the two tracks that follow Entitlement. The bittersweet closer Want And Able, perfectly in line with tracks that closed The White Stripes LPs in the past, provides a bit of closure to some of the themes brought up in the album, but leaves enough doors open for the future.
In the end, Lazaretto acts as a proper spiritual successor to Blunderbuss, rather than a repeat. Picking out the best cuts from each, there’s enough stellar material to make quite the classic LP – even if the songs from one don’t necessarily fit alongside the other. It’s beyond proven that his “solo artist” persona has been established and perfected here, and a testament to that is the fact that comparisons to his previous bands now seem more distant, almost unnecessary. Jack White has delivered another amazing studio effort, reaching the same level of quality that’s commonly associated with him, and the people in his live audience will benefit more than ever, as his already-enviable repertoire has just become even bigger.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.