Jack White’s second solo album Lazaretto flits from one style to the next, simply because it can. If the former White Stripe/Raconteurs/Dead Weather leader feels like doing rap-rock reggae with distorted keys and fiddle doodles and giving it a goofy title like “That Black Bat Licorice,” he will do so. Because no matter how ghastly all that sounds on paper, White not only gets away with that shit, but he sells it: “She’s my baby but she makes me get avuncular/ And when my monkey’s jumpin’ I got no time to make it up for her” is but one of many rhymes as intricately constructed as the music that surrounds it.
Created over an extended period that contrasts sharply with the tight timelines he’s imposed upon previous projects, Lazaretto nevertheless crackles with spontaneity because the playing feels as impulsive as the arrangements are considered. “High Ball Stepper” may at heart be a simple blues-rock jam, but it’s one that alternates backwards piano and violin riffs, shrieking wordless vocals, and soloing so fuzzed-out it sounds like bombs are dropping between the beats. Here and throughout, White is wired so tightly that when he gives himself permission to fly, it results in feats of deranged derring-do.
Those flights of fancy aren’t all his own. Although White undoubtedly calls the shots, Lazaretto boasts considerable ensemble chemistry, employing varying combinations of White’s touring bands the Peacocks and the Buzzards. But there’s studio trickery too: Opening blues blast “Three Women” gallops out of the gate, then practically levitates with a double-tracked harmonica solo from Old Crow Medicine Show’s Cory Younts that’s as intense as White’s guitar maneuvers.
Bluegrass, garage, punk-folk and goth overlap on most cuts to both honor and skew their sources: The vocal harmonies and weeping fiddle on “Temporary Ground” are country, but the bouncy melody and rolling rhythms are practically art-pop. As retro as White get, he’s no purist. Lazaretto is all the better for it.