Jack White can do things that other people can’t. In the 21st century, he is somehow miraculously able to get the masses excited about good old-fashioned guitar-centric rock ‘n’ roll.
In an age when EDM (electronic dance music) and hip-hop reign supreme over the popular music landscape, White stands as one of the few outliers bucking the trends. Take the track “High Ball Stepper” from his new album “Lazaretto,” for instance. It was the first song off the album that the public got a taste of, and it racked up somewhere close to 1.5 million views on YouTube.
The remarkable thing about this feat is that it’s a nearly four-minute-long cut that is devoid of lyrics and driven by a near-unceasing guitar solo. The concept of a guitar solo has almost become an anachronism, and the inclusion of one in a song, even a rock song, is an invitation for ridicule. Yet, here’s White, wailing away with millions bobbing their heads along in approval.
So why can Jack White get away with this? Well, the biggest is that he is able to elevate the mundane to the interesting. The biggest knock against guitar solos is that they are boring. Jack White’s solos are thrilling, bordering on manic. The biggest knock against the blues is that it’s redundant. Jack White’s blues keep you on your toes. And the biggest knock against the guitar is that you can’t do anything that hasn’t been done before. Well, you get the point.
White’s “Lazaretto” sounds new, familiar and exciting all at the same time. The classic White vocal shriek and octave-shifting guitar sound are splattered all across the album, but never more prominently, or joyously, than on songs like the incendiary title track and “That Black Bat Licorice.”
The singer’s take on country with “Entitlement” and “Temporary Ground” have far more in common with the near-ancient traditions of the genre than anything being played by the genre’s current megastars, while bluesier cuts like “Three Women” and “Want and Able” continue to elevate the form much in the way he was able to with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs.
White has built a career out of taking two steps backward to take three in the opposite direction. On “Lazaretto,” he expands upon this familiar principle, producing a work that leaves everyone else treading water in his wake. It’s why he’s allowed to take an honest-to-goodness guitar solo while others continue to punch in programs on their laptops.