Review of Jack White's album Lazaretto

#1 Review in America: Jack White’s “Lazaretto”

June 24, 2014 / by / 604 Comments

Each week we make Stephen listen to the #1 album in America. This week, Stephen listens to Jack White’s Lazaretto.

Jack White may be rock n roll’s curmudgeon-in-chief, and his wary distrust of a digital age is well-documented throughout Lazaretto, White’s second solo album. But I swear to God I heard him crack a smile during the blazing honky tonk blues opening track “Three Women.” And why shouldn’t he? Jack White just made one of his most enjoyable albums ever.

Last week I waxed a little too poetic about Miranda Lambert’s Platinum. Lambert made an awesome Top 40 country album — an interesting piece that worked within the confines of pop country. But Jack White dropped an awesome album no matter what genre you think he falls within.

Lazaretto can be — and has been — interpreted as an album dealing with White’s strained relationship with his enigmatic ex-wife and ex-bandmate Meg White. That theory certainly holds up (take the line “I love you / Honey why don’t you love me” from “Just One Drink” or the song “Would You Fight For My Love”).

But more than anything else, Lazaretto sounds like a tour through every musical style White has tried on and perfected for the past decade and a half. Everything that has marked White’s music, from The White Stripes’ 1999 self-titled debut through White’s myriad of side projects like The Raconteurs or The Dead Weather and up to 2012’s Blunderbuss, is present on the LP: Detroit-laced grunge, Icky Thump-levels of face-melting distortion, an obsession with ghosts, piano bundled with thumping drums, fiddle funk (like on Lazaretto‘s “Temporary Ground”), vocals that sound like the guy from Cold War Kids just got punched in the balls by Tyrion, and White’s penchant for weird-ass solo album titles.

The entire album is killer, but its middle sequence encapsulates White’s dazzling originality and diverse sound. Starting with the blues-rock headbanging of “High Ball Stepper,” White transitions seamlessly towards what I imagine power pop would sound like if played by Exile-era Stones “Just One Drink,” slides into the jaunty piano of “Alone In My Home,” hikes up his old-man pants on “Entitlement,” and brings it all back with his mandolin and mind-twisting grunge with “That Black Bat Licorice.”1 It’s a short album, but there isn’t a wasted second to find on Lazaretto.

Just as crazy as the array of genres blended by White, if not more so, is the sales numbers Lazaretto put up last week. Besides moving more units than any other album, White also set the record for the largest sales for a vinyl album since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991, beating the 1994 debut of Pearl Jam’s Vitality by over 6,000 copies (perhaps even more impressive is that Pearl Jam’s Vitality was issued on vinyl two weeks before it came out on CD and cassette).  While the bonus features and oddities designed for the wax junkies — including vinyl-only songs that play beneath the center label, tracks that play at 78RPM and 45RPM, dual grooves that play either an acoustic or an electric intro to “Just One Drink” depending on where the needle is dropped, and a hologram that appears while Side A spins — could be perceived as distracting overtures to vinyl fetishists, the quality of White’s songs make Lazaretto a technological masterpiece as well as a great musical product.

But most impressive of all is album closer “Want And Able,” a classic Jack White piano and acoustic guitar ballad that could unquestionably be appended onto any Stripes album without anybody blinking. It’s a reminder, like the rest of the album, that Jack White’s going to do his own thing, but he’ll forever retain what made you love him in the first place.