Jack White’s 'Lazaretto': What the Critics Are Saying

Third Man/Columbia

For the most part, music journalists are enthused about the ex-White Stripes' sophomore solo album, but there is a dissenter or two.

The definition of Lazaretto, the title of Jack White’s new Third Man/XL Recordings /Columbia album, his second solo effort, the follow-up to Blunderbuss, is “an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases, especially leprosy or plague,” the groundbreaking Nashville-by-way-of-Detroit garage-punk-rock alchemist’s tongue-in-cheek way of characterizing the record’s “studies in loneliness, anxiety, disaffiliation, self-erasure,” as the N.Y. TimesBen Ratliff describes the songs on his latest release.

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Ratliff talks about Jack “needing control or needing to relinquish it,” though adding “This is not a bad thing,” referring to it being “tightly argumentative, weirdly superstructured, assertive in not wanting to be understood too easily… The less real Mr. White is, the better he sounds.”

Overall, the critics seem pretty satisfied with White’s idiosyncratic blend of raucous rock and meticulous old-school country, with Metacritic giving him a score of 79.

The L.A. TimesRandall Roberts was effusive in his rave: “A confident, brash, inventive collection featuring songs that lock into the psyche adfter only a few listens, the White-produced creation is lyrically and musically challenging and filled with many fresh avenues of exploration, even as it nods to key tones and ideas from throughout the history of pre-rap American music.”

Rolling Stone’s  David Fricke praised Lazaretto in his four-star review: “[It’s] literally a house of blues, with each room outfitted according to White’s mood and trials: the hip-hop seizure and hog-squeal guitar in ‘Lazaretto’; the bleak piano and deathangel voices in ‘Would You Fight for My Love?’... the crushing voodoo of ‘That Black Bat Licorice,’ lined with nervous mandolin and scalding fiddle… like a craftsman who feels most at home in his own ship, with his favorite tools.”

Billboard’s Kenneth Partridge called Lazaretto a “trusty rusty shopping cart of American musical artifacts and curiosities” and its auteur “an eccentric huckster with no shortage of energy or ideas… a jokester and snake-oil salesman who also happens to be a fantastic singer and songwriter.”

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Pitchfork’s Stephen M. Deusner weighs in with a 7.1 review that compares White’s new solo album somewhat unfavorably to his work in the White Stripes with drummer Meg. “His work has become fuller, of course, more elaborate and more conventionally ambitious; his idiosyncrasies have dimmed a bit, too, so his music is less subversive, less culture-shaking, less special,” though adds, Lazaretto makes all of his other projects sound a bit scrawny by comparison. It’s the densest, fullest, craziest and most indulgent that White has sounded with or without Meg – almost pointedly so, as though he’s trying to shake the minimalism that defined the White Stripes.”

Entertainment Weekly’s Kyle Henderson, in his B review, calls White “the 21st century’s greatest Stones-age revivalist – which cuts two ways…. [He] seems to be scrubbing away that playful griminess and replacing it with an extension of a lifestyle, commensurate with his much-documented vinyl fetish and commitment to old-fashioned production techniques.” Still Henderson says, “White’s best songs combine his songwriting chops with his boundless charisma, and Lazaretto has both in spades.”

Spin’s Jonathan Zwickel casts one of the few dissenting votes, with a 6 (out of 10) review that states “Jack White’s an asshole,” calling the album’s experimentation “ambivalent, its songs fractured and distracted.” His conclusion? “He doesn’t give a shit about anyone else’s opinion, but he cares deeply about making good records. There’s a minor reckoning coming to bear on our her, and judging by Lazaretto, he’s nervously sniffing the winds of change.”