Jack White’s new solo album, Lazaretto, is first and foremost a continuation of an immensely prolific career. In addition to founding three commercially successful bands since 1998, White started his own label (Third Man Records), releasing and/or producing 45 albums through it. Lazaretto is sure to soak up the same attention as his previous works, with inevitable comparisons to late White Stripes (specifically Icky Thump) and his first solo LP, 2012’s Blunderbuss. This latest release is as cheeky as it is ambitious, combining elements from blues, garage rock, Spaghetti Westerns, hip-hop and every noise in between. But White’s style is familiar at this point, so the more novel background-story here belongs to the album itself: its inspiration struck when White came across some scripts in an attic that he’d written as a 19-year-old living in Detroit. Now twice that age, White taps into his storytelling energy, channeling an eclectic line-up of narrators ranging from a female bird on I Think I Found the Culprit to a leper in quarantine on the title track.
But how well does White channel his youthful inspiration? Anyone who’s followed along since the White Stripes or even the Raconteurs knows that White’s production quality and instrumental arsenal have come a long way. On Lazaretto, White moves the chains another few steps further with every song. He brings the classic guilty-lover temperament on Three Women while still exploring ways to make his soul vibe expand. That Black Bat Licorice picks up where Little Cream Soda (Icky Thump) left off—it’s a wild, dark and bluesy rock number with the added tang of digitized, remixed, obsessively-produced sound. Still, with so much experimentation, there’s bound to be some broken glass.
There’s one recurring glitch in this highly manicured LP that is rare for White, but especially noticeable on his attempts at country: a lack of emotional depth. The music is smart, diverse and tuned to perfectionist standards, but frequently the lyrics leave the listener wondering, “Where is White’s gut on this?” The attitude on numerous tracks feels borrowed, as White seems to be relying on tired tropes associated with the vintage sounds that have always been his main inspiration. Particularly on the song Entitlement, White’s emotionality is forced, boring and frankly, out-of touch. Which is part of the reason why the album’s best track is the instrumental, High Ball Stepper. It’s got all the distortion and rage from his early days with a haunting kick reminiscent of Aluminum (White Blood Cells), plus the firebrand riffing that made him famous in the first place.
White doesn’t need to go back fifteen years to find himself. Some places on Lazaretto strike out in new, powerful ways. The opening lines of Just One Drink and the entirety of Would You Fight For My Love both cut straight to the bone. Still, it’s always interesting to note White’s progression, the many sounds he’s picked up and even the ones he’s left behind.