Every Jack White song sounds like it has always existed. Play this new album without context, and you could probably convince people that Lazaretto, his second solo effort since 2012’s chart-topping Blunderbuss, was composed entirely of long-lost blues recordings, bootlegged garage jams, and Nuggets-era one-hit wonders. (It wasn’t.) After all, the elements that make up his best work are the fundamental building blocks of ur—American rock: muscular guitars, saloon piano, stomp-ready rhythms, and an electric wail that telegraphs both pleasure and pain.
Lazaretto further cements White’s position as the 21st century’s greatest Stones-age revivalist — which cuts two ways. Tracks such as the battle-of-the-sexes shimmy ”Just One Drink” and the ambling ”Entitlement” are exquisite ’60s simulacra — undeniably catchy, but also oddly academic in execution. White Stripes albums often found the band deconstructing vintage tropes with a wink and a snarl. Here, White 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.
White’s best songs combine his songwriting chops with his boundless charisma, and Lazaretto has both in spades — the swaggeringly funky ”Three Women” and the strutting title track are instant classics. But so far, his solo work lacks the bracing agitation that fueled past projects. At times, Lazaretto feels less like a raw manifesto than a trip to the world’s edgiest wax museum. B