‘Dahhhn, dahn DAHN dahn dahn dahhhhn, dahhhhnn!’ rang the hook of 2003’s Seven Nation Army. Teamed with enigmatic videos, dark
Wearing a shiny blue suit on the cover of Lazaretto, the don of macabre-blues rock’n’roll (now releasing via his own label, Third Man Records) he’s stylishly poised to further this.
Crafted over a year-and-a-half (aeons by his standards), Lazaretto was sparked off by a collection of short stories White wrote as a 19-year-old living in Detroit. Not that he’s gone conceptual; each track was envisioned as a standalone ‘single’. To a point, he does deliver – not least on the title tune – completed for Record Store Day in under four hours. Born from a tin can, via electronic quirks and starkly psychedelic undertones, it evokes White’s devil-summoning, slightly unhinged but sexy side.
Similarly, discordant instrumental High Ball Stepper reflects that bare-bones decadence of JW’s prime cuts. Elsewhere the dainty likes of Temporary Ground cover prettier JW ground, with countrified fiddle, honky-tonk keys and sung-from-the-porch backing vocals. White has long admired the dulcet country tones of Loretta Lynn, and he capitalises on that affection here.
Genre boundaries are defied, a lot of shit goes on… and yet, while it improves with listens, much of Lazaretto cries out for something more – some substantial musical handle ready to be grabbed with the exclamation: ‘Yes! Gimme some more of that!’ Genre-hopping and storytelling are all very well, but without proper hooks it drifts into innocuous territory; a little disparate as the record flits between newer-wave and olde bluesy styles. Alone In My Home, for example, falls from honky-tonk to ‘plinky-plonky’, devoid of ‘wow’ impact.
To finish, we have Dr Seuss. Well, effectively – Want And Able meanders around ‘who is the who telling who what to do’ in a manner that would sit very happily alongside The Cat In The Hat. It’s sweet, poetic even, but short on substance.
An eclectic work, Lazaretto shows off White’s multi-instrumental, seasoned-producer lineage with some charismatic flashes. As a complete exercise in songcraft, however, it’s a little thin.