Guest Album Review: Jack White – Lazaretto

Guest contributor and Jack White superfan/aficionado Lorimar Hidalgo gives her thoughts on the seasoned rocker’s latest solo album Lazaretto

Jack White - Lazaretto

Jack White – Lazaretto

Artist name: Jack White
Album name:  Lazaretto
Record label: Third Man Records
Genre: Rock, Blues, Folk
Release date: 6/10/2014
Stand out tracks: “High Ball Stepper” “Temporary Ground” “Would You Fight For My Love?” “Alone In My Home”
Relisten value: [Rating:10/10]
Non-skipping streaming: [Rating:9/10]
Dorkproval rating: [Rating:10/10]

Before writing his second solo album, Jack White revisited plays and short stories authored by his teenage self in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.  Incorporating themes and characters from these works, White wrote Lazaretto – quarantine for those with especially contagious diseases, his suffering being his trademark and very popular sound.  With the recent Rolling Stone interview painting him as an artist with an ego the size of Graceland and the subsequent apology written by White to basically every musician name-checked in the magazine (issue was taken with The Black Keys), one can’t help but read angst in his lyrics. He has stated time and again, he is not the narrator in his songs, however, he also claimed Meg White was his sister for many years. That said, it seems White is undecided as to whether or not the popularity of his music and its influence is a good or bad thing.

The opener, “Three Women” is a revised version of an 80-something year old version of Blind Willie McTell’s song “Three Women Blues”.  Chock-full of non-apologetic swagger, he laments needing these women he can’t lose and “Yeah, I know what you’re thinkin’/What gives you the right?/But these women must be getting somethin’/Cause they come and see me every night”.  With his all-male backing band, The Buzzards pumping testosterone through crashing cymbals and a funky organ, White’s screeching guitar ramps up to a finale that has the listener muttering “Lordy lord, I need to see this in concert.”

In the title track, a jaunty guitar leads The Buzzards into three minutes and thirty-nine seconds of a genre hopping, oxymoron spitting, bilingual tragedy of a “Born rotten, bored rotten” prisoner quarantined on the Isle of Man whom refers to God as another woman that “never helps me out with my scams for free/She tells me everyday ‘Jack, don’t you see?’”  Rapping without embarrassing himself, White’s guitar goes punk rock, stabbing ears with short shrieks and perfectly nuanced howls before segueing into psychedelia when “They wanna burn down the prison/Lighting fires with the cash of the masses”.  Then he has a violin fiddled for those dying in the fire on the Isle of the Mainstream – or Man, I mean.

The Peacocks, White’s all-female counterpart to The Buzzards, star in “Temporary Ground”, a country duet where temporary creatures spend their days on a floating island resting and waiting for the floor to buckle beneath them causing them to “crash into yet another/Drifting continental shelf”.  A pedal steel and fiddle work together as White warns younger musical acts, the various stars of Next Big Thing articles abound on music blogs, of the inevitable end to their frivolous fame: “Moving without motion/Screaming without sound/Across an open ocean/Lying there/On temporary ground”.  However, White includes himself on the island, saying “Nothing but God is left to know/And why he left us all here hanging/With an illusion of a home”.   Also, he references God as both genders on this album – are there two gods or is God but one allegory for us, the audiophiles reading music blogs and therefore deciding which act deserves recognition and which can disappear into the open ocean of our digital music libraries?

Dean Fertitia of The Dead Weather and Olivia Jean of The Black Belles join a mash-up of The Buzzards and Peacocks on “Would You Fight For My Love?”, a bust-your-windows love anthem showcasing both White’s ego and insecurities.  Annoyed at having to continue proving himself but admitting to fearing water (or open ocean), he wants you (not she, he or they, YOU) to fight for his love now that simply having it is not enough.  It’s a pointed statement meant to turn the tables on treacherous audiophiles, those that prove fealty to only the newest of musical acts (“The last person in the room she hugged/Was the person she loved the most”).  His claim he’s getting better at becoming a ghost may be reference to the 18 months he spent recording and mixing this album whereas his solo debut, Blunderbuss, took half that time – imagine how many Best New Bands Pitchfork.com has hailed then forgotten in 18 months?  His guitar’s growl is accusatory, the piano haunting and the drums, determined.  Ruby Amanfu’s operatic vocals spike the song with melancholic drama as White dares his audience, “I know that you want more/ But would you fight for/ My love”.

“High Ball Stepper”: a raucous four minutes of something to fight for.  White wordlessly seeks to incite riots in this instrumental, along with his Peacocks and every furious decibel his guitar can deliver.  War cries, an electric guitar scraping against the inside of your skull, sparks flying between your ears and a sneaky piano letting you believe it’s okay until NOPE, THIS GUITAR HAS A LOT MORE TO SAY, FRIEND-O.  This instrumental howl could likely replace The BeeGees “Staying Alive” as The Song To Strut To Forever.

The country rock song “Just One Drink” is a playful honky-tonk tease in which he compares his musical drug of choice “gasoline” and the average listener is stuck on water.  Insisting he loves us but needing further proof we love him, though it becomes pretty obvious we might not be up to the task.  We may be too lightweight to handle his rock and roll (or rock and rye) since we bust our lips on a sip of wine spodie-odie (a garbage can drink consisting of ice, club soda, wine and fruit).  Still, he invites, “If you want to know me/Put a fork in the road with me”.  Of course, this could also just be his coming out as an alcoholic but White is never so simple.

The Buzzards return to the stage with “Alone In My Home”, an Americana fuck-you to the disingenuous.  Over an upbeat mandolin and a patiently paced piano, White acknowledges his loneliness but warns “And your friends/Won’t see you to the end/I’m sure/But you love them anyhow”.  The “Lost feelings of love/That hover above me” represent his lack of patience for the insincere ghosts that claim “To be held from me in chains/But come on/They’re guilty as sin my dear”.  He becomes just as insincere in a form of self-preservation and builds his own home “To be sure/That nobody can touch me now”.

A sweetly angry country ballad, “Entitlement” begs the question, “In a time when everybody feels entitled/Why can’t I feel entitled to it too?”  White has proven he can hop from genre to genre within the same song, deliver fierce guitar licks and strum a sweet tune. He came to this all with hard work while some can now achieve the same with an expensive music enhancer downloaded to their laptop.  He feels cheated but then decides “Not one single person/On God’s golden shore/Is entitled to one single thing/We don’t deserve a single damn thing”.

“That Black Bat Licorice”, a blues-rock stomper wherein White loses his fucking mind and simultaneously desires a place with a cot (“the army, asylum, confinement in prison”) and to “lose the part of the brain that has opinions” while Olivia Jean commands “Behave yourself” as if it would make a difference.  He’s cocky and doling out well-deserves with “Whatever you feed me/ I’ll feed you right back/ But it will do/ No good”. Also, Fats Kaplin’s sassy violin solo is so damn sassy.

The Peacocks shine in the melancholic “I Think I Found The Culprit” where White’s insanity escalates into paranoia.  Tired of being watched, he baits a pair of birds with crumbs and grows convinced one is up to no good.  A creepy piano and mandolin join together to ramp up his insanity peak, “Birds of a feather may lay together/But the uglier one is always under the gun”.  Is he suspicious of his audience because we’re still here?

White closes his album absolutely solo with the ballad “Want and Able”.  A lonely duet with himself, he asks “Who is the who telling who what to do?”  A sad re-telling of what we already know: “Want said it didn’t feel so good/To never be fulfilled/Forever stressed out and impatient/Saying ‘just over the next hill’”.  Jack White will never stop wanting to be free, to live without a gimmick, but this legend he’s living is of his own devising.  He built this lazaretto, he can get himself out.

 – Lorimar Hidalgo

Categories: Reviews