Review Summary: "I'm so Detroit, I make it rise from the ashes"
As most of you know, Jack White has a little feud with The Black Keys going on. The whole thing seems to boil to one point: Jack White thinks The Black Keys stole "his" sound. With all due respect, blues is not exactly "owned" by Jack White. Blues as a genre was invented by black people, and then stolen by white people. In terms of modern blues-rock though, the two main purveyors of it are Jack White and The Black Keys. Last month, The Black Keys released their absolutely excellent eighth studio album Turn Blue. Now a month later, Jack White has released his absolutely excellent second solo album Lazaretto. And to put it simply, there's really no comparison to be made between either record. Whereas The Black Keys' version of blues-rock draws heavily from soul/r&b influences, White seems to lean far more towards the country/folk side of the blues.
That is not to say that there's no rock to this roll on Lazaretto. The first two tracks, "Three Women" and "Lazaretto" demonstrate White's ability to rock out in spades. Whereas "Three Women" unfolds like a lost Allman Brothers track and then gets furious in the end, the title track is straight rock swagger turned up to 11. An absolutely infectious riff carries "Lazaretto" as White spits out lyrics like a pissed-off rapper. Checkmarks go to the unexpected fiddle solo halfway "Lazaretto" and the sledgehammer blues heard in the last minute. "High Ball Stepper" is the other notable rocker to be found on Lazaretto the album, as is it an instrumental track that would fit perfectly on an old Western. White gives us a toe-tapping riff as the piano dances around it. "Just One Drink" is a sub-three minute track that just feels a bit lazy and shoehorned in. "That Black Bat Licorice" does featuring White spitting out lyrics in a hip-hop influenced phrasing, but it fails to catch fire.
Lazaretto succeeds the most in it's more introspective moments. "Temporary Ground", featuring Lillie Mae Rische on guest vocals is a gorgeous country-driven number that rolls out like a Persian rug. "Would You Fight For My Love"" is piano-dominated except for the bursts of guitar throughout, and is the best song on an album full of great rock songs.
Lyrically, Lazaretto is very much a record of heartbreak. While "Three Women" has White playing the part of a suave playboy, along with "That Black Bat Licorice", it is worth noting that the lyrics of "Three Women" are basically a re-write of Blind Willie McTell's song of the same name. The title track seems to use the definition of the word "lazaretto" (a house for the sick and dying) and applies it to White's hometown of Detroit. Otherwise, Lazaretto is very much a record inspired by White's contentious divorce from his wife Karen Ellison. "Just One Drink" is about a couple drifting apart and "Alone In My Home" addresses loneliness after a relationship has ended. "Entitlement" actually addresses the entitlement felt by people today, who take whatever they want and tell others what to do.
However, it is "Would You Fight For My Love"" where Jack White pours his heart out the most: The chorus finds White asking his significant other if "you can ignore my love" and then asking her if "you would fight for my love." It's almost heartbreaking to hear the painful sincerity that White sings these words with, and thus makes "Would You Fight For My Love"" the most emotional moment of Lazaretto.
Blues is a genre that going on 100 years old now, but has mostly been forgotten by today's generation. In a sea of EDM and hip-hop, it is nice to hear someone who is so dedicated to reviving Americana. Jack White may not have invented blues/folk/country as he seems to sometimes believe, but he, along with The Black Keys are the most prominent musicians of our generation when it comes to traditional rock music.
Lazaretto is a fantastic album, and shows off the songwriting gift that White seems to have always possessed. Indeed, if The Black Keys took their cues from the Motown era of Detroit for Turn Blue, then Jack White took his from the working-class threads of Detroit for Lazaretto. I believe this lyric from the end of the title track applies to Lazaretto and Jack White's sound as a whole:
"I'm so Detroit, I make it rise from the ashes".