Lazaretto/ Jack White
Genre: Rock/ alternative
Labels: Third Man/ XL Recordings/ Columbia
AS A part of the groups White Stripes, Raconteurs and Dead Weather, and through his debut solo album ‘Blunderbuss’, American singer, guitarist and songwriter Jack White has been recognised as one of the most versatile and accomplished musicians of the 21st century. Interestingly, he is often categorised as a modern blues musician, when in reality his music encompasses many more styles.
Check out the first three songs of White’s second solo album ‘Lazaretto’, to begin with. The opening track ‘Three Women’ is in the blues space, no doubt. An uptempo reworking of Blind Willie McTell’s classic folk-blues beauty ‘Three Women Blues’, it sets the pace for the album as he talks of having three women – “red, blonde and brunette”, in comparison to the original’s “yellow, brown and black”. But his fascination for the blues ends just there.
The second number, which is the title track, blends a hip-hop vocal line with garage rock guitars and folk/ classical violins, with an incredible distortion-filled, Led Zeppelinesque guitar solo in between. Then, on the next song ‘Temporary Ground’, he explores country ‘n’ western territory, getting in violinist and singer Lillie Mae Rische to do parts that are so reminiscent of Emmylou Harris. Add to that some crisp pedal steel guitar and lines like “Moving without motion, screaming without sound, across an open ocean, flying there on temporary ground” and you have an absolute winner.
Get the drift? Across 11 songs, White never ceases to surprise. Throughout, he moves from one genre to another, making it difficult to pinpoint where exactly his sound belongs. Even more impressive is the quality of lyric-writing on some numbers, as White talks of everything from loneliness to rejection to irony with articulate ease.
The opening of ‘Would You Fight For My Love?’ sounds like the theme music for an action movie, but slowly, he gets into a late 70s feel, with soaring back-up vocals and a driving rhythm. ‘High Ball Stepper’, the only instrumental track, is filled with trademark distortion and fuzz guitars that move between psychedelic and grunge zones.
On the Stones-like ‘Just One Drink’, White talks about a woman who’s been nasty to him, with the lines “I love you, but honey why don’t you love me?” The next track ‘Alone In My Home’ is held together by an ultimately melodic piano line, and then talks of loneliness on the lines “I’m alone in my home, alone in my home, nobody can touch me.”
For a delightful change in tempo, ‘Entitlement’ gets into folk-rock rebel mode. Against a charming piano line, White sings with the kind of raspy twang that’s so reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, and truly impresses with the lyrics “Stop what you’re doing and get back in line; I hear this from people all the time; If we can’t be happy then you can’t be too; I’m tired of being told what to do, Yeah, I’m sick of being told what to do”.
The next number ‘That Black Bat Licorice’ is a complete contrast in sound. Starting with madcap laughter and pounding garage rock riffs, it moves on to hip-hop vocals, and synthesisers, violins and guitars that sound inspired by Asian and Middle Eastern music. On the country-pop tune ‘I Think I Found The Culprit’, White smartly blends acoustic guitars with pedal steels, keyboards, violins and haunting back-up chants. The repeated line “Birds of a feather may lay together but the uglier one is always under the gun” lend a sing-along feel.
The album concludes with the wonderfully-written ‘Want And Able’, which talks of the difference between having a desire for something and actually achieving it. The words “Now, Want and Able are two different things;
One is desire, and the other is the means; Like I wanna hold you, and see you, and feel you in my dreams; But that’s not possible, something simply will not let me” talk of the irony of life.
What you have, in effect, is an album that is strong on its distinctness, its arrangements and its songwriting. Clearly, this is one of the best selections of songs released in the past year or so, proving that White is simply moving from strength to strength.
RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding