Jack White “Lazaretto” Review

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Although it does pack a few punches, Jack White’s “Lazaretto” proves that he has fallen past his prime.

Jack White very recently spoke out against other respected artists, namely Meg White, the Black Keys, Adele and Lana Del Ray. He then almost immediately retracted everything he said about everybody, apparently realizing that those people would actually hear what he said. That’s not punk. He also recorded with Insane Clown Posse, not quite as respected of a name as the Black Keys. So it’s easy to say that Jack White is starting to fall towards being an annoying, aging rock star with bad opinions and no guts left. “Lazaretto” could have reversed that, but sadly, it does very little to.

It isn’t to say that the album is bad, necessarily. It does have a lot of things working for it. But it suffers from two major faults, ones that used to be pluses on White’s earlier albums. The first is massive inconsistency. It’s the worst early on. Opener “Three Women” is a sleazy, George Thorogood-y bar-rock song, “Lazaretto” is an angry, delirious mix of all of White’s influences, and “Temporary Ground” is a pretty, country duet that would be good on it’s own, but sounds too tame following the insane title track. Where all of White’s bandsĀ  – the White Stripes, the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather – have maintained a very consistent sound, his solo albums (this and 2012’s “Blunderbuss”) have suffered from too many big ideas and tracks that have no flow.

Jack White has usually prided himself over original music. The White Stripes reinvented garage rock with a blues element, the Dead Weather put their biggest fears into music, and the Raconteurs sound like the exact moment where Crosby, Stills and Nash decided to let Neil Young join. But on “Lazaretto,” his strengths are the conventional tracks. This is the other big fault – the album’s better songs are the ones we’ve been hearing for years. “Would You Fight For My Love?” is a crunching country-rock song that ends up standing as the album’s best song, and “Just One Drink” follows the pattern two songs later. The album has a strong middle third, of songs that focus less on packing on the ideas and more on just sweet sounds and solid songs. “Alone in My Home” and “Entitlement” are other strong, country-influenced songs, and “High Ball Stepper” is a groovy instrumental track, one that I feel like we’ve all wanted for a while. The album’s ending third gets kind of bland, not really doing anything besides a trio of inoffensively pleasurable but forgettable songs.

But, yikes, that beginning. The opening three songs really set the album on the wrong foot. “Three Women” isn’t a bad song overall, but it isn’t an opening type of song. And, it comes off as a little sexist. That’s really not the way to represent yourself when you’re already taking heat for controversial comments. And the third song, “Temporary Ground,” is, as mentioned, hurt by it’s placement on the album. “Lazaretto,” meanwhile, is the most amateur-ish song Jack White’s ever done. How it got placed as the lead single, I’ll never understand. It has carnival noises and a violin section, like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Charlie Daniels Band meeting in the worst way possible. And it has a tempo change that is so poorly written, it’s made me cringe every time I’ve heard it. I’ve been a fan of White’s through the good (“White Blood Cells,” “Horehound”) and the bad (“Get Behind Me Satan”), and I honestly think this is the worst song Jack White’s ever put out*. There’s too much going on, and he doesn’t know how to make any of it work together.

So this is what we have, now. “Lazaretto” has more unique songs than “Blunderbuss,” but more offensively bad songs, too. People expected Jack White to go solo for a long time, but left completely in control of his own creations, he’s crafting some overindulged messes. If you just start this album at track four, it comes off as pretty decent. Harmless, sometimes really engaging, other times just a light listen. His lyrics, based largely on old poems, are pretty strong throughout. There are songs to handpick off this album that will stand with White’s legacy. But “Lazaretto” is just too inconsistent in tone and sound. The first third is infuriating, and the last third is forgettable. The Black Keys probably did take a few too many lessons from White, but maybe it’s time to return the favor. I think it’s safe now to say that we can all look behind us to see Jack White’s peak.

* – I did not listen to the ones with ICP.

Grade: C

-By Andrew McNally

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