After the storm provoking title track of ‘Lazaretto’ dropped earlier this year, I was as excited for a new Jack White release as a walrus with a huge bucket of fish slumped at its feet. What also excited me about hearing this album was that I had obtained the Ultra LP Vinyl addition of the album, and being a 21st century child, you’ll forgive me if this review is a tad nostalgic and biased towards the wonders of that black bat plastic, given that I’d never bought an album exclusively on this medium before.
‘Lazaretto’ opens up with ‘Three Women,’ a tongue ‘n’ cheek Blues hurricane cutting just under the four minute mark. Swirling Hammond organ, the crack of hi-hat, and Jack’s characteristic snarl make for an entertaining introduction, and it’s damn catchy. Title track ‘Lazaretto’ sounds as vibrant as ever, especially so on vinyl, and ‘Temporary Ground’ tones down the mood with some hugely emotive string work. ‘Would You Fight For My Love?’ brings a tension to the album with lush female backing vocals and a brilliant refrain before the first chorus. The track is reminiscent of The White Stripes’ ‘Martyr For My Love For You,’ but adds a new dimension to a similar template, feeling almost filmic in its delivery. One of the highlights of the album is ‘High Ball Stepper,’ a track previewed online prior to the release of the title track. It’s a song to thrash wildly to in a darkened room, by far the fiercest track on this album, especially with blistering guitar work that’s delivered.
Part of me wishes there was more of said Guitar playing throughout this album, because it adds an energy that’s lacking from a lot of these tracks, especially as we approach the second half of the album. The novelty of ‘Just One Drink’ having dual intros on the vinyl addition wears thin once you actually listen to the track, which although catchy, is desperately corny. The song is like a slightly more sophisticated pub band track, and I’m sorry, but it’s just not up to scratch considering White’s track record.
There’s a considerably lazy feel to the remainder of the tracks, especially lyrically, with cliché rhyme traps being fallen into left right and centre. ‘Love’ and ‘above’ are rhymed in ‘Alone In My Home,’ and the track itself feels like the backing to an American College sitcom. There’s a really tasteless use of slide guitar in ‘Entitlement’ and just a general lack of the raw power that Jack has delivered on his previous work with The Dead Weather of The Racounters.
Obviously, this being his fledgling solo career, he’s bound to tread new ground, but it just doesn’t come off as well as his earlier work, or even as well as ‘Blunderbuss,’ which was, unusually for most, my first proper introduction to Jack’s work, and probably my favourite album of his. That being said, the album ends well on ‘Want and Able,’ a punchy, delicate song with some brilliant lyrics, especially the final line, which polishes off the album nicely.
What I will say is that if you are going to buy this album, get the vinyl release, because the holographic angel that twirls delicately above the player is one of the most spellbinding things I have ever seen, and harks back to an age where the human attention span exceeded a 7 second vine. There are plenty of other goodies stockpiled into the Ultra LP too; it’s a far more engrossing experience than any mere CD or faceless download.
However, we mustn’t be distracted from the music itself, which, I’m afraid is a little lacking. The raw energy of tracks like ‘Lazaretto’ and ‘High Ball Stepper’ doesn’t transfer to the rest of the album, and although there are high points on the more sweet tempered tracks such as ‘Temporary Ground,’ this album tends to fall flat emotionally a lot of the time, especially as Jack delivers some of the most lacklustre lyrics he’s ever put out. It’s an album much like a mountain range, full of extreme highs and lows, never really finding a middle ground in which everything sits comfortably. Overall it’s worth a listen, it has its flaws, as this album is more of an evolutionary process, but one I will be following with eager anticipation.