Jack White - Lazaretto

Rock n’ roll blooms on this album from a musical veteran of the 21 century.

Additional Info


ALBUM: Lazaretto

ARTIST: Jack White



Jack White is no novice to composing, recording, and producing music. He claims to have recorded to over 40 musical compositions within the last 15 years. White’s creative philosophy is similar to the theory of the Transcendentalist “Transparent Eyeball.” He absorbs inspiration from his surroundings, whether it’s working with other bands, collaborating on film soundtracks, or making chairs with hidden poetic inscriptions, bringing art to every facet of his life. He wrote on tour while debuting his solo album because he wanted his new album to rise from the creative energy of Blunderbuss. He told Rolling Stone, “We're a band right now, let's record right now.’ I didn't wanna come back and reintroduce ourselves to each other.” His latest production, Lazaretto, was made off the adrenaline of his previous tour. He stole the album title from a book about the Black Plague, and, fittingly so, Lazaretto’s material is nothing if not dark. White’s sound on the album sways between The White Stripes and The Raconteures influences, while incorporating a new folksy, roots rock vibe.

White’s artistic prowess expands to the far reaches of the creative spectrum. From upholstering furniture to writing plays and collaborating on albums, White doesn’t limit his imagination in the slightest. Utilizing every available resource and surface, White has transcribed poetry on his furniture, and incorporates screenplays he wrote in his teens into his current works some 20 years later. He has a cyclical style of working, not linear, daring himself to manage the constant flow of art and music. When looking back at screenplays from his youth he mentioned his propensity to, “pull from here and take it somewhere totally new, so I'm actually collaborating with myself from the past on a song.”

With this flexible, creative style, White has been able to make breakthroughs in his systematic creation of musical structures. Rarely speaking about the concrete, White gives a conceptual explanation of his most important musical realization:

A big lesson I learned in the White Stripes: Meg's kick drum was the bass guitar. Take a song like “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads. Bum bum bum bum bum bum buh-buh-bum… that could just as easily be a drum beat. When I realized that was going on in the White Stripes, that relieved a lot of structural worry for me as a songwriter.

White is constantly learning and evolving from his work; he’s made countless songs, albums and band’s since the late nineties, inventing and recycling sounds and lessons he collected over the years. He demonstrates an obsession for creating layered meanings and interpretations in Lazaretto. During the album’s creation, he told NPR, he was fueled by coffee, and would use the grounds to make little sculptural mounds while he was writing. He makes it a habit to constantly re-appropriate what he encounters to make his art.

If you just give me a couple of slivers of wood and some metal shavings, I will be forced to create something in this room, under this condition.

His music, when made subject to postmodern deconstructionism, plays “language games” with the listeners. His lyrics, though not the most logical, are based off of events of synchronicity, irony, and happenstance. They have multiple meanings and multiple bases of origination, which can achieve different conclusions depending on the interpreter. Eighteenth century literary theorist Paul De Man deems these “local difficulties of interpretation,” (ix de Man, “Allegories of Reading) which allow multiple meaning to be derived from the same word or phrase. De Man decided to call these variances “language games,” and White encounters these games frequently in Lazaretto.

Someone sent me this beautiful thing that someone had found in an interview, that one of the West Memphis Three — those people that got put into jail unjustly — in jail, he was making drawings with Q-tips and coffee grounds. I couldn't believe it, man! You'd say, "Oh that's where you got that idea.” Well, I'm not gonna argue with you now. I'd never heard of that, but that's an unbelievable coincidence. I couldn't believe that. That's one of the biggest coincidences I've ever had in my life. I really like that lyric now, even more.

That “someone” whom White references made a peripheral connection to the coffee ground art, attesting to the multiplicity of interpretation. White brings up again and again his interest in the coincidence. “That Black Bat Licorice” is a prime example; the initial command in the song to “Behave yourself” would remind a listener of an authority figure, but this memory could range from positive to negative depending on the experience connected with the phrase. The next line, “My feet are burning like a Roman hypocaust/ But the Romans are gone, they changed their name because they lost” would resonate with listeners differently depending on their familiarity and relationship with the Roman Catholic Church. Though de Man’s theory of language games pertains specifically to words, the examples and references White infuses in Lazaretto obey the same rules. For White, language games arise from the coincidences and patterns that fuel his lyrics and content. “Difficulties of interpretation” are encountered within the songs because their references are non-specific, and their meanings vary depending on the experiences of the listener.

That, shockingly, is the seed of a lot of romantic ideas for a lot of people on a day-to-day basis, even for a lot of artists, you know? That it was meant to be. Actually, it's our brain focusing on patterns, trying to discover patterns all the time. It's a little bit sad to say that, so I hate even saying that out loud because it kind of kills a lot of romance about things.

Apophenia, the “unmotivated seeing of connections," is the brain’s tendency to find patterns that White brings up. Robbin Miranda, Ph.D., currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown, made the discovery a few years ago that these patterns present themselves in music, as well as language. Jack White would find this study a ironic coincidence, I believe. In addition to experimenting with language games and musical structure, White creates some beautiful poetry and dark rock n’ roll. His ability to play with language as well as music is innovative and creative, lending him to be one of the most influential musical artists of this time.

“I wanna cut out my tongue and let you hold onto it for me/ Cause without my skull to amplify my sounds it might get boring.”

1. Three Women
White opens Lazaretto smug with seduction. A blues-y organ lays down a thick introduction, warming the album up to White’s roots-rock n’ roll flavor. Keeping the lyrics simple, the catchy riff incessantly repeated up and down the scale occupies the listeners attention while White moves through his tale of catching tail. Tongue-in-cheek, White leaves much to the imagination as he taunts, “Yeah, I know what you're thinking/ What gives you the right?/ Well, these women must be getting something/ Cause they come and see me every night.” He gives us a rendition on the tired story of a man using women as a road map, hoping they’ll drive away that empty feeling. Lacking emotion, infused with lust, “Three Women” allows the album’s intro to capture a sliver of White’s sound, unhindered by the weight of a heavy conceptual story. His personality shines brighter in later tracks.8.0
2. Lazaretto
Leaning towards his sound with The White Stripes, this track’s funky rhythm sets the tone in a mood much lighter than the content in the lyrics. White belt’s out in his distinct sound the sorrows of imprisonment, digging ditches in the dirt, and the fantasy of quarantine. He begins lamenting the waste of an electric brain on the task of “trabajo duro.” He makes a personal reference to his art made of coffee and cotton, literally, in his home, and metaphorically, in his music. They are the evidence of a struggling artist trying to self-motivate. White shares his fantasy of “Quarantine on the Isle of Man and I'm trying to escape any way that I can, oh.” He puts forth a bundle of philosophical concepts here, laying the groundwork for the album’s depth. His subject matter is scattered, but as with the entire album, the connections and meanings drawn will be different for every listener.8.9
3. Temporary Ground
This track allows the album to downshift, relaxing into a calmer energy. A twang of string accompaniment introduces a country sound to Lazaretto. The sweet, heartbreaking story within the lyrics are personal and poetic; “Praying for the floor to/ Buckle down below their belts/ Crashing into yet another/ Drifting continental shelf.” The song discusses the travels of explorers long ago, returning home to relay pretend “discoveries” where others already lived. We’ve created for ourselves the fact that “Nothing but god is left to know,” a bleak realization that attests to White’s use of music to examine the spiritual.8.7
4. Would You Fight for My Love
The initial drum line kicking off the track has an indie music style, which is then layered with a powerful piano and reverberating electric guitar. A cooing White comes in, and then a pause of silence marks the transition into smooth rock. The lyrics are true poetry, a romantic plea: “You use the sun to erase the past/ But you think it only raises for you,” turning over the paradigm in “Three Women” to expose a more vulnerable, concerned White. His descent from falsetto at one point emphasizes his provocative, desperate sentiment. A catchy chorus with internal rhyme keeps “Would You Fight for My Love” stuck on replay in your head, marking the sign of another hit.8.7
5. High Ball Stepper
A honky-tonky rhythm on a bass guitar is coupled with a repetitious shriek. Then, a syncopated piano adds a bluesy, jazzy vibe. Charged with emotional, aggressive energy, it comes as a surprise that “High Ball Stepper” is entirely instrumental. The song implements strategic use of pauses to hold out silence, which amplifies the renegade mood of the jam. A drum solo brings this song to a close, and one final, shocking chord echoes from the speakers a beat and a half later.8.0
6. Just One Drink
“Just One Drink” returns to the roots-rock element of Lazaretto. Like in the album opener “Three Women,” this track features simplistic lyrics and a folky, blue-collar, heartland-rock feel. The relatable subject matter of chasing women makes White the butt of a romantic joke once again, leaving him begging “Honey, Why Don’t You Love Me?” Compared to the rest of the album, this track lacks certain elements depth and creativity.7.0
7. Alone in My Home
A cheery ragtime piano lifts the mood on this unexpectedly heartbreaking track. White shows off his finesse for shining a few rays of positivity through heavily melancholy subject matter as he repeats, “Lost feelings of love/ Lost feelings of love/ Hover above me.” The combination of piano, harmonization, and an aptly strummed guitar makes for a thin layer of optimism over lyrics mourning ghosts of the past. A leniency towards heartland rock is heard once again, in a more complex package that “Just One Drink” offered.7.8
8. Entitlement
Lazaretto continues to maintain a melancholy mood, which sways and drifts slowly through this ballad. White asks the poignant question, in a time when everyone acts so entitled and privileged, why shouldn’t he feel entitled too? As seen in his works from The White Stripes, most notably “Icky Thump,” White is a passionate believer in the equal rights for the everyman (or woman). Struggling to comprehend the strength of higher powers, he figures if someone took away his God-given rights, well, then God must have wanted that to be. This tongue-in-cheek conclusion is illuminated further by White’s past desire to become a clergyman in his youth. He wines over his desire for fairness in a world where, “They can have what they want, whenever they want/ They take like Caesar and nobody cares.” Unfortunately, by the end of the song, he’s left with no hope, realizing no one, not mothers, children, or kings, deserve “a single damn thing.” The dreary message is dark, which contrasts with the light musicality of the track, achieving a pleasant balance between the harsh truth and a lovely song.8.7
9. That Black Bat Licorice
The album throttles back into it’s initial energy and sound. Sharp, witty lyrics create a cacophony of scholarly and histrionic references, “Good for the needy, like Nietzsche, Freud and Horace,” that are meant to describe a femme fatale. The chorus is eerie yet alluring in both sound and reference, “I wanna cut out my tongue and let you hold onto it for me/ Cause without my skull to amplify my sounds it might get boring.” Though not entirely logical, the puns and play with words in the lyrics draw in the listener. The amount of explanation regarding the title to this track is minimal: “That Black Bat Licorice, I never liked it, I never will/ Now state the same damn thing with the violin,” is about all that’s given. White’s prompting to make a statement with a violin makes for a very contemplative solo closing out this multi-faced rock song.8.2
10. I Think I Found the Culprit
A passionate guitar combines with a sharp staccato strumming in the background, bringing back the familiar country rock vibe. This storyline within the song is a simply stated metaphor, “Two crumbs on my windowsill/ Two birds sitting there perfectly still/ One of them up to no good/ The other one doing what he totally should.” Birds of a feather may look the same, but what’s inside doesn’t change outward appearances. The good and the bad bird look the same, but one can be trusted while the other cannot. As White repeats until the end of the song, the uglier bird is under more scrutiny because of it’s appearance. He points to the superficial tendency of judging a book by its cover, using a much less cliche metaphor to explore an important topic.9.0
11. Want and Able
A startling intro echoes the cawing a birds, reminiscent of “I Think I Found the Culprit.” A peaceful guitar strums as the caws fade away, and White gives us another cheeky line of word play, “Who is the who, telling who what to do?/ Tell me who, tell me who, tell me who.” The title plays off of the biblical tale of Cain and Able, a story White was privy to raised as a devout Catholic. Implementing his poetic mind, White creates the tale of “Want and Able,” two opposing concepts that rely on each other. The conceptual tale comes to a close on a puzzling note, where White’s wants and abilities are addressed. “Like I wanna hold you, and see you, and feel you in my dreams/ But that's not possible, something simply will not let me.” It’s not surprising such a creative mind would leave his fans with a cliffhanger rounding out the end of Lazaretto.9.0
Written by Shelby Tatomir
Reading and writing are my roots, making music, design, and photography sprouting branches of special interests that I am always striving to cultivate.

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