Review Summary: Jack White continues his blues phase, but something is still missing even on the second attempt.
Jack White is probably the busiest musician in the world right now. He owns a record label, produces albums while not making his own music, and writes and plays for a plethora of musical acts. The White Stripes will always be his most famous act for a few good reasons. The first four albums from the duo of Meg and Jack White are nothing short of brilliant and it also showed Jack to be at his most unshackled artistically. The White Stripes created some of the most unpredictable albums in their time and never felt comfortable sitting pat. That explains their inexplicable movement from the stripped-back(but still unpredictable) Get Behind Me Satan to the bombastic and brash Icky Thump. Now White has moved on to a solo career that shows a penchant for more roots-based blues rock with a lot less edge. There is no debating that White still can perform music at an astounding rate, but Blunderbuss is one of his least interesting experiments to date. Lazaretto seemed like a chance to dig in deep and get a bit more insane, but he still seems a bit flat.
White comes back with a lot of the same instrumentation that he has on Blunderbuss for the most part. There is a lot of western and country sound in the majority of the record. Violins are a real star of the album, getting a handful of solos and major key parts. Guitar work is plastered throughout, both acoustic and electric. White shows off his virtuoso skill throughout Lazaretto as in past releases. Drums are the lowest in the mixing but they still come through when needed to give discernable rhythm to the track listing.
As far as song quality goes for White's solo sophomore effort, Lazaretto ranges from fantastic to disappointing. On the positive side of the argument, three songs on the album are arguably some of his best in the solo discography. The title track is simply brilliant in it's multiple movements. "Lazaretto" is lush from beginning to end with a buzzing guitar line, a bumpy bass line, a violin solo that is marvelous, and hypnotic lyrics that could come off of White Blood Cells. "Would You Fight For My Love?" is another solid hectic track to bite into. The intro kicks off with a wild-west movie type sound effect sequence followed by drums and piano work that is on point. The lyrics present here are vastly more interesting than the majority of the album, charged forward by outstanding electric guitar work. "That Black Bat Licorice" leaves a lot for the listener to digest also. This is the most insane sounding song on Lazaretto, giving off a bit of a crazy lunatic feel. Violin and guitar work smashes from beginning to end, unpredictably getting broken down by a wacky vocal delivery.
The vast majority of Lazaretto fails to be quite as compelling as that trio of great songs. The closing track, "Want and Able" is really bland for where it sits on the track listing. Between the weaker story being told and small scope of instruments, it feels more like an afterthought than epic ending. "I Think I Found the Culprit" is easily the weakest song of the group. Aside from solid vocals from beginning to end, the lyrics are brutally boring and the snail's pace that it builds hurts all momentum. "High Ball Stepper" is where the record falls downhill as a whole though. "High Ball Stepper" is a decent instrumental that has solid guitar and pianos to fall back on, but there are too many movements to make a cohesive song. "Just One Drink" has incredible vocal work throughout but the song is too calculated to work as a piece about being an unpredictable character. That is the biggest problem on Lazaretto and Blunderbuss as a whole though. White has less angst now and when he tries to display any, it just comes off as calculated and phony.
Lazaretto is far from a bad album for Jack White, but it could be a lot better. Lazaretto has great instrumentation and left hooks that surprise a listener. However, the lack of dynamism present really hurts the record. The vast majority of the tracks are too weak lyrically or sonically to really create a memorable listen.