As a music critic and longtime fan of Jack White, it’s hard not to become “that guy.” You know the one we speak of, the critic and fan that can not not mention how anything Jack White does outside of The White Stripes compares (and often pales in comparison) to the beloved garage rock duo.
Yet, it’s inevitable because no matter how many solo records, side projects and record labels he is associated with, at the end of the day he’s forever linked to the band that made rock ‘n’ roll fun, creative and interesting again, even if for a brief, shining moment.
And the reason this reviewer has to be “that guy” is because up till now, Jack White’s subsequent music (his singles, solo record and music with The Dead Weather), post-Stripes, have not felt interesting, creative or fun. (From a live perspective, White is probably still one of the most magnetic, charismatic and talented current rock musicians out there).
On record there seems to be a lack of electricity in Jack White since The White Stripes broke up. The fire and manic genius that emitted from his guitar, his mind and his vocal chords just wasn’t there. His first solo record Blunderbuss contained a few great anthems that can be added to the greatest hits vault, but as a record, it’s highly forgettable.
This long set-up brings us to White’s latest record, Lazaretto. From a structural standpoint, it’s really is no different from Blunderbuss. There are a few high-energy, electrified anthems, a couple of slow temp and introspective pieces and some old timey blues (coupled with pretty female vocals) numbers. The pace of the record starts at 100mph and ends at a more thoughtful 25mph. Using the same formula as his previous record should result in the same outcome — a forgettable record with a few hits on it. But instead, we seem to hear more of a reborn Jack White, a self-aware Jack White and most importantly, a creative Jack White.
The songs on Lazaretto are just more interesting than Blunderbuss. White’s performance, both instrumentally and vocally, seem to have more fire in them, more anger, angst and even that signature Jack White playfulness. Listen to some of those lyrics and you can just hear White venting upon his life, himself and the world about — infinitely more interesting than anything on the last record.
Let’s talk about the title track/single ‘Lazaretto’ first and foremost. As odd as it is, it’s still infinitely more accessible to a mainstream audience than anything off Blunderbuss. It’s a distant cousin to “Seven Nation Army,” but maybe closer to a “Blue Orchid” in the fact that despite its weirdness, it still plays well for the masses.
Other stand outs include the opener “Three Women” in all its Hammond organ-fueled glory. This really sets the tone for the record — it’s obviously a Jack White song, but there’s something just a little different about, it’s a little more bluesy and edgy, it’s definitely not something that came from his recent wheelhouse. The instrumental “High Ball Stepper” is a long-lost cousin to something you would’ve heard of the self-titled debut or De Stijl. “That Black Bat Licorice” sounds like a track that just barely missed the cut from Get Behind Me Satan.
Lazaretto is by no means Jack White’s opus either. Towards the end of the record, the songs tend to blur together, all of them enjoyable, but in the end nothing stands out as a definitive, must-listen song.
To return to being “that guy” for a moment, Jack White’s Lazaretto is probably the most “Jack White sounding” record the artist has produced since the White Stripes called it a day. Simply put, Lazaretto isn’t so much a step into the future for Jack White’s musical journey — it is a much-needed return to form.
Bill Bodkin is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. He can be read weekly on Trailer Tuesday and Singles Party columns and contributes regularly through out the week with reviews and interviews. His goal is to write 500 stories this year. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English and currently works in the world of political polling. He’s the reason there’s so much wrestling on the site and at one time hated The White Stripes. He has since changed his tune. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom