‘Dahhhn, dahn DAHN dahn dahn dahhhhn, dahhhhnn!’ rang the hook of 2003’s Seven Nation Army. Teamed with enigmatic videos, dark themes and an ex-wife long-touted as his sister, such White Stripes triumphs shrouded John Gillis (aka Jack White) in rootsy, alternative mystique. After two solo studio albums, six with The White Stripes, two each with the Dead Weather and The Raconteurs and myriad producer credits, White has ended up with an astonishingly ‘cool’ persona.
Jack White: Lazaretto
Eclectic second solo album from Nashville’s foremost former upholsterer.
Wearing a shiny blue suit on the cover of Lazaretto, the don of macabre-blues rock’n’roll (now releasing via his own label, Third Man Records) he’s stylishly poised to further this.
Crafted over a year-and-a-half (aeons by his standards), Lazaretto was sparked off by a collection of short stories White wrote as a 19-year-old living in Detroit. Not that he’s gone conceptual; each track was envisioned as a standalone ‘single’. To a point, he does deliver – not least on the title tune – completed for Record Store Day in under four hours. Born from a tin can, via electronic quirks and starkly psychedelic undertones, it evokes White’s devil-summoning, slightly unhinged but sexy side.
Similarly, discordant instrumental High Ball Stepper reflects that bare-bones decadence of JW’s prime cuts. Elsewhere the dainty likes of Temporary Ground cover prettier JW ground, with countrified fiddle, honky-tonk keys and sung-from-the-porch backing vocals. White has long admired the dulcet country tones of Loretta Lynn, and he capitalises on that affection here.
Genre boundaries are defied, a lot of shit goes on... and yet, while it improves with listens, much of Lazaretto cries out for something more – some substantial musical handle ready to be grabbed with the exclamation: ‘Yes! Gimme some more of that!’ Genre-hopping and storytelling are all very well, but without proper hooks it drifts into innocuous territory; a little disparate as the record flits between newer-wave and olde bluesy styles. Alone In My Home, for example, falls from honky-tonk to ‘plinky-plonky’, devoid of ‘wow’ impact.
To finish, we have Dr Seuss. Well, effectively – Want And Able meanders around ‘who is the who telling who what to do’ in a manner that would sit very happily alongside The Cat In The Hat. It’s sweet, poetic even, but short on substance.
An eclectic work, Lazaretto shows off White’s multi-instrumental, seasoned-producer lineage with some charismatic flashes. As a complete exercise in songcraft, however, it’s a little thin.