x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Album review: Jack White – Lazaretto

As well his usually arresting homage to American traditional blues, Lazaretto packs a sonic surprise with an eighties hip-hop influence surrounding some of the tunes.

Jack White performs at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee last week. Jason Merritt / Getty Images / AFP
Jack White performs at the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee last week. Jason Merritt / Getty Images / AFP

Jack White

Lazaretto (Columbia)

Four stars

It seemed like Jack White signed up to the Kanye West school of album promotion in delivering a few controversial interviews in the lead-up to the release.

In his now notorious chat with Rolling Stone magazine, White let fly at the The Black Keys for basically ripping him off; female soul sirens Adele, Lana Del Ray and Duffy were also accused of doing the same thing to his seemingly female equivalent, the late Amy Winehouse.

Judging by some of the tetchy offerings in the vibrant Lazaretto, White’s recent rants complements the tension surrounding the creation of the album.

Like his nemesis The Black Keys’ recent release Turn Blue, White’s second solo offering is also a divorce album.

The similarities stop there, however; where The Black Keys’ singer Dan Auerbach is lyrically introspective, White lashes out with songs about women who did him wrong, misguided youth and a pair of suspicious birds, for good ­measure.

All of which could have had him sounding like an unhinged rich rocker if it wasn’t for Lazaretto’s dazzling riffs, inventive song-structures and dark sense of humour.

As well as his usually arresting homage to American traditional blues, Lazaretto packs a sonic surprise with a 1980s hip-hop influence surrounding some of the tunes.

In the opener Three Women – White’s remake of Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 recording Three Women Blues – he almost raps the lyrics Beastie Boys-style; the braggadocious content is matched by some virile boogie guitar riffs.

The follow-up title track is built on a distorted bass line recalling The O’Jays’ For the Love of Money (and subsequently sampled by many rappers) before revealing itself as a scrappy garage rocker.

The mash-up approach doesn’t always work; White oversteps the mark in the cluttered Alone in My Home with the zany combination of saloon piano, ukulele and acoustic guitars taking the focus away from its pretty melody.

In the cinematic I Think I Found the Culprit, the attention is on the lyrics as White stares, beady eyed, at a couple of birds on his windowsill. He ruefully concludes that “birds of a feather may lay together/ But the uglier one is always under the gun”.

Lazaretto concludes with the rootsy track, Want and Able. White delves into mythical storytelling as he details the story of two brothers, one content to follow tradition and the other in search of adventure.

It’s hard not to view their resulting arguments as an insight into White’s muse.

For more than two decades he melded the traditional with the trailblazing to create a sound both vintage and undeniably modern. Lazaretto is another stop on White’s daring path.

sasaeed@thenational.ae