Now releasing his second solo album, Lazaretto, Jack White once again proves to be a connoisseur of that deliciously tart, yet smooth combination of blues and rock. However Lazaretto fails to reach the dizzying heights set by White’s solo debut Blunderbuss; as he focuses more on trying to surpass others, rather than creating a memorable album.
True to form, White opens Lazaretto with his patented soulful exuberance. First track, ‘Three Women’, sets the tone of the album, with creative use of piano melodies and an undeniable sense of energy. The sharp lyrical humour is there as well: “she says she loves her daddy, but only when she’s got bills to pay”. This wittier, light-hearted side to White proves to be far more elusive here than on Blunderbuss, with its only other significant appearance being made in ‘Just One Drink’.
Another far more lacking side to Lazaretto, is that of coherency. Though I appreciate White’s desire to experiment and stretch the boundaries of his art, at the same time I still yearn for a few more glimpses of that old, simple brilliance that Blunderbuss displayed. There are occasional reminders; ‘Temporary Ground’ oozes glorious southern twang, especially with a generous helping of honey-voiced backing singers. Yet, all too often White descends into musical chaos. This first becomes apparent in title song and single Lazaretto, which initially impresses with a surprisingly funky feel to both White’s guitar and vocals, but is eventually overpowered by far too many elements thrown in for the solo. Instrumental only track ‘High-Ball Stepper’ also somewhat suffers from overcrowding; the dark and sinister overtones in both the distorted piano and guitar are great, but the whole thing becomes rather unforgiving to the ears.
To give credit where it’s due, White does pull it back together towards the end. In giving the piano the lime-light in ‘Alone in my Home’, he succeeds in creating a more stripped back, yet far more memorable song. White then brings the whole thing around with ‘That Black Bat Liquorice’: an epic blues extravaganza that manages to be exciting, while avoiding excess.
Making a second album is never easy, regardless of whatever previous musical exploits the artist has indulged in, as it will always be compared to its predecessor. In the case of Lazaretto, this is exactly the album’s problem. Though impressive in his attempts to push the boat out, White only seems to succeed in losing sight of how well-made and well-structured it is. What made Blunderbuss great was how raw yet characteristic each track was. Even though Lazaretto shares moments similar to this, the album is somewhat bogged down with over-complication.
Lazaretto will be released by Third Man Records on June 10th 2014