Fifteen years ago when The White Stripes took over the radio waves with their infectious breakout single “Fell In Love With A Girl” few would’ve predicted that Jack White would still be a major force in the world of rock music. Not because his music wasn’t good. No, to the contrary, White’s music with The White Stripes was really good. Even with the simplistic “guitar and drums” approach the Stripes took, but it was always readily apparent that beneath the surface, lurked an absolute monster of a musician.
But it took several years (and several bands) for Jack White to fully realize the extent of his sonic vision, the result being the multifaceted bluster that is Lazaretto. In typical White fashion, the album never stays in one space for long, constantly shifting and changing, making it a genre-bending affair to say the least. “Three Women” kicks things off on a familiar note, with its blues-rooted swagger grabbing hold and refusing to let go. It’s an energetic start to the album to be sure, but the following song (and first single) “Lazaretto” take the volume and cranks it to 11. The seductive bassline grooves along for the better part of the song until White unleashes an intense guitar solo that’s only the beginning of a fuck off breakdown that smashes everything in its wake. It’s a side of White that hasn’t been seen since the Stripes’ 2007 offering Icky Thump, and it’s awesome.
The ecstatic sonic high of the title track doesn’t last for long though as White shifts his sound on “Temporary Ground” to low-a key but effective traditional country sound. It’s not the first time we’ve heard White toy around with the genre (see his work with country icons Wanda Jackson and Loretta Lynn), but it is the first time that country stylings have been featured so prominently in his own music. And honestly, it’s quite refreshing to hear White’s take on country, mashing up deep-fried traditionalism with his own brand of rock music. It’s a sound that’s repeated throughout Lazaretto, especially on “Alone In My Home” and the confessional vulnerability of “Entitlement.”
Perhaps it’s White’s proclivity for genre bending that gives Lazaretto such luster. The playful bounce of “That Black Bat Licorice” contains all of the hallmarks of White’s music that we’ve come to expect, but to find a song like that on the same record as “Would You Fight For My Love?” which blends spaghetti western pomp with the blues roots of early Fleetwood Mac, is challenging but ultimately proves to be a fascinating listen. Now that isn’t to say that Lazaretto doesn’t have shortcomings, namely the album closer “Want and Able” which weans the power of the album off in a minimalist fashion, but such moments are few and far between and what’s left is an album that refuses categorization from one of the more innovative and interesting artists of our time.