Former White Stripes man's musical pick ‘n’ mix is fun and exhausting in equal measure.
Virtuoso seems a pretty apt word to describe Jack White. As with 2012’s debut solo offering Blunderbuss, Lazaretto is the work of a man with an appetite for detail. While The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather were decent rock ‘n’ roll bands, they certainly weren’t touched by the genius of Elephant-era White Stripes.
With only himself to please, White’s solo work throws all his favourite sounds from whatever genre he fancies into the mix and attempts to make cogent songs out of them. While this is often impressive from a technical perspective, much of Lazaretto just has too much going on. The title track is a case in point. A boisterous funk bassline, flashes of guitar, random organ stabs, multi-tracked voices and White yelling over the top are followed by a violin solo. Yep, you heard that right. At heart, it takes its cue from Led Zeppelin, but whereas the rock behemoths would have stretched these ideas over a seven-minute epic, White jams them all into three-and-a-half minutes. Like a mad professor, he can’t stop tinkering, dashing from one thought to the next and to hell with the consequences.
He’s on surer footing on the country swagger of Temporary Ground, his harsh vocals tempered by the bittersweet voice of fiddler Lillie Mae Rische. Similarly the folk-blues swirl of I Think I Found The Culprit benefits from the addition of a female voice while album closer Want & Able’s simple guitar-strummed ditty is a pretty redemptive love song and a companion piece to The White Stripes’ Icky Thump album closer Effect And Cause.
Much will no doubt be made over the lyrical content of the album following his difficult divorce (ex-wife Karen Elson took out a restraining order against White) and his rants against, well, pretty much everyone (for which he has since apologised) but really, only White knows whether some of the characters are autobiographical. In any case it’s business as usual, with scorned love high on the agenda in the baroque lunacy of Would You Fight For My Love? and on the bar-room blues of Just One Drink. One of the album’s highlights actually comes when he drops the vocals completely on High Ball Stepper, a signature White guitar riff meets a stoned groove and the distortion feels like it’s going to collapse the entire track. It’s truly electrifying and will raise the hairs on the back of your neck, like all the best Jack White compositions.
Lazaretto cements his reputation as a mercurial talent then, but also helps to prove that old adage that less can be more.