I think everyone knows how much I like pretty much everything Jack White has ever done (bar one cover – I’m not a complete sycophant, just a partial one), and that I have been very excited indeed about his second album, Lazaretto, which has been 18 months in the making. He rarely spends that long making a record, and I have a feeling a lot of blood, sweat and tears were shed on this one – at the very least, an incredible amount of retrospection and personal change seems to have happened between the start and the end of this process.
If I’m completely honest, I’ve still not stopped the hype about his debut, Blunderbuss, and now I’ve got to find space and time for the new music! I’m sure I can manage that…
Track one is a rewritten version of Blind Willie McTell’s “Three Women Blues”. Jack has definitely put his inimitable stamp on it with exhilirating guitar sounds, bluesy drum beats and Hammond-esque keyboards, at the same time updating it to a slightly less controversial opening lyric. Well done, that man.
The next song is the title track, and you’ll have heard this a lot if you’re a BBC 6 music listener! Bold, energetic, dense, lyrically dark, – “And all of my illegitimate kids have begotten, thrown down to the wolves, made feral for nothin’”- and incredibly powerful, this song has everything anyone could ever want from White.
“Temporary Ground” is a complete contrast to the previous track – a gentle, country style with pedal steel and violin provide the folky feel. Jack, along with Lillie Mae Rische, sings a harshly lyricised, yet beautifully put together, lament about the impermanence of life and the world.
Next up is “Would You Fight For My Love?” featuring Ruby Amanfu’s soulful tones throughout. This is probably the closest to a ballad you’re ever going to get from Jack White (excluding the ever cynical Love Interruption). He has bravely worn his heart on his sleeve with the lyrics: “But I’m afraid of being hurt that’s true, but not afraid of any physical pain. Just as I am always scared of water, but not afraid of standing out in the rain.” It’s a song to identify with, I think, and most definitely an insight into Jack’s romantic history if you don’t know about it already.
“High Ball Stepper” is an anxious, spirited, moody, stop-start rhythm, encompassing the dirty guitar noises Jack favours so frequently, all of which make this a very nicely placed instrumental tune.
The next track is “Just One Drink”. There’s a very sexy feel to this song that reminds me a bit of The White Stripes’ Ball & Biscuit lyrically – not the actual words used, obviously, it’s completely original in that respect.
“Alone in My Home” kicks off with a lovely piano melody which is almost nursery rhyme-like in its nature. In comes Jack’s voice, which on this song seems a lot more mature than usual – he’s definitely decided not to include the more quirky edge here, and I kind of miss it, actually. Having said that, this style could appeal a lot to people who dislike his more screechy tendencies.
I really adore the next song, “Entitlement”. It’s very country and western (suits Jack’s voice perfectly), and I love the message in the song – the conclusion of the song states quite succinctly: “I guess nobody on earth is entitled – not mothers, not children, not kings. Not a one single person on God’s golden shore is entitled to one single thing. We don’t deserve a single damn thing.” Yep. I agree.
Next up is another complete change in pace in the form of “Black Cat Licorice”, a detailed, witty, daring song which showcases Jack’s seconds humour and love for all things musically diverse clearly and concisely within 3 minutes and 50 seconds.
The penultimate song, “I Think I Found the Culprit” is largely acoustic, but towards the end of the song it experiences a short burst of energy, including an injection of vocals from Amanfu, which rouses the heart and the mind before easing off into calm.
Lastly is “Want and Able”, a light hearted, appealing end to the album, with another good message within. Jack sings a story about Want being taught the ways of the world by Able. “Being able is to freedom what wanting is to cruel. It’s hard to tell, it seems, which one of them’s the fool. Is freedom a gift, that we only give to the ones that say I love you?” I can imagine this as a gig ending song – maybe Jack will start using this instead of Goodnight Irene. Or maybe not.
Every time Jack White brings out another record, it feels special, wanted and well loved. This record is the one that I can personally relate to the most, quite possibly out of all of the albums Jack has released under whatever guise, except possibly Sea of Cowards by The Dead Weather. The lyrics resonate with me, and that’s on top of the usual feeling of being magnetically attracted to Jack’s innovative ways with music.
Lazaretto has got a depth to it that is on a whole new level, I think. It isn’t as urgent as Blunderbuss – Jack has mulled this one over, he really has taken his “sweet little time about it”, and the result is, I think, outstandingly heartfelt.
As I write, I’m sure Jack White is considering his next move. Nothing is obvious. Nothing is predictable. We must simply wait, and wonder.