I’ve spent the last few days thinking about Lazaretto and a proper, eloquent way to explain the importance of Jack White in my life. The White Stripes and the Raconteurs, who were putting their first record when music became an obsession instead of a casual interest, were the gateway into a lot of cool music that my dad didn’t listen to. Jack was the hero I needed. Every band I played with in middle school through high school did a song by one of Jack’s bands. I had the chance to be in the same room with him when I was 16 and couldn’t bring myself to look at him; a few years later at a signing, I only managed to eke out “thank you for your music” while he nodded politely.
In recent years however, he’s let me down. When I Photoshopped a goofy Facebook picture of friends and I together to include my idols, my other high school hero Julian Casablancas made the cut, but Jack was etched out by “cooler” people I’d gotten into since I was a kid like Robert Pollard or Stephen Malkmus. (Yes, when I’m bored I Photoshop myself into pictures with famous musicians. It’s not weird. Don’t worry about it.) I thought the Dead Weather were alright, but generally too heavy for me, while his first solo album was also just alright while not quite rocking enough for me (I understand the flaws in that logic.)
This is a roundabout way of saying I went into Lazaretto with tempered expectations. And because you probably want to hear about the music at this point, I will say that it’s very good.
“Lazaretto,” the track, is insanely badass Jack, a facet of his personality that we’ve only seen hints of in recent years (Dead Weather’s “I Cut Like A Buffalo” or “Sixteen Saltines” from his last record.) You know his formula by now: blues riff, quick-fire lyrics, hook, hook, hook, breakdown, blistering solo, out. If it ain’t broke, etc. The fantastic “That Black Bat Licorice” and the instrumental “High Ball Stepper” more or less work this way. This is my favorite Jack. On the other hand, some of the low key, country-tinged tunes like “Temporary Ground” or the preachy “Entitlement” tend to blend together, while “Want And Able” seems like a less memorable mash up of Stripes tunes “Little Ghost” and “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet.)”
I still believe with all my heart that Jack has another masterpiece in him and while this certainly improves upon Blunderbuss, this record isn’t it. But Jack’s got me interested in him again, and this record’s long gestation period (several months, instead of the usual couple weeks it usually takes Jack to make a record) makes me believe he’s trying to prove something again, and I look forward to finding out what it is.
– Layne Montgomery