Jack White best when blowing past musical borders in 'Lazaretto'

'Lazaretto'

Jack White's new album, "Lazaretto." (Third Man Records/Columbia / June 9, 2014)

'Lazaretto'

Jack White

2 1/2 stars (out of 4)

Jack White's second solo album, "Lazaretto" (Third Man/XL/Columbia), takes a similar approach to his first, the 2012 release "Blunderbuss." In some ways it's even more scattershot and wide-ranging, with its lyrical lifts from White's past and brief embrace of just about every musical style that's revved him up. "Even God herself has fewer plans than me," he declares on the title track.

Scraps of lyrics salvaged from short stories White wrote when he was 19 after a break-up provide a starting point. But reconstructing the past or creating a cohesive album isn't the point. The songs jump around in perspective, a patchwork of sly, shady and sour narrators. The music also flits around, indulging life-long obsessions and exploring newer flirtations like a kid with a new toy, in this case a rotating cast of well-versed musicians – a good distance removed from White's thrillingly primitive duo, the White Stripes.

The most predictable moments touch on deep traditions that have informed him from the start, notably the world-weary country textures of "Entitlement" with piano and pedal steel, and the fiddle-stoked "Temporary Ground." There's also the exaggerated blues testosterone (via Blind Willie McTell) of "Three Women," the Led Zeppelin-like drama of "High Ball Stepper," the roadhouse stomp "Just One Drink." Though these songs likely will please White diehards, they don't present anything he hasn't done better before.

It's only when White breaks through the more familiar framework that the album sparks. He veers into pop on the piano-driven "Alone in My Home," a catchy little tune in which the narrator recedes into reclusiveness. "Nobody can touch me," he sings, a defensive posture more than a boast.

Bombastic keyboards blend with incongruous ingredients – a hint of reggae feel in the rhythms, a country fiddle – on "Black Bat Licorice," which finds White rhyming "Columbo" with "Dumbo." The multi-tracked vocals in "I Think I Found the Culprit," by turns ghostly and Queen-worthy, befit a song narrated from the vantage point of a bird. The singer finishes things off with a subdued and relatively trite solo piece, "Want and Able." After all the musical handsprings it tries to calm things down, ending this mish-mash, mix-and-match album with a soft thud.

greg@gregkot.com

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