Vinyl Review: Jack White – Lazaretto
My feelings on Jack White are complicated.
On one hand, I think he’s a musical genius. Nearly all of The White Stripes albums rank among my favorites of all-time, and I also find his work with The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather to be almost just as great. He’s one of the greatest guitar players alive, and his love for music and culture of a bygone era is only eclipsed by his amazing ability to amalgamate it into his own work in ways that are both unique and wonderful.
That being said, I also find Jack White to be a pretentious prick. A man’s whose skill is often overshadowed by his own pretension and desire to craft an unnecessary (and entirely annoying) persona for himself that paints him out to be some kind of country-bumpkin version of Prince – despite the fact that the motherfucker was born in Detroit in the 1970s, and not the deep south in the 1920s. As of late he seems too concerned with crafting this wacky persona than actually creating new music, and that’s beyond bothersome.
Furthermore, his record label Third Man Records acts like a poster child for how record labels should not act. The label’s focus on extreme collectibles, ultra-rare LPs and singles that almost no one can buy, is maddening. It’s double maddening because he often hides exclusive, never-before-released tracks on some of the most rare and hard-to-find albums in his back-catalog. I’ve said it before and I’ll (sadly) say it again; making an album so rare that the overwhelming majority of your fans can’t buy it without turning to eBay to pay exorbitant prices is bullshit, and it’s the quickest way to alienate even the most die-hard of devotees. White even takes this one step beyond into a whole new realm of dickery by occasionally withholding ultra-rare records himself to sell them on eBay! It’s one thing to craft a record tailor-made for the speculator market, it’s another to directly capitalize on it.
So yeah, like I said, complicated.
To be honest, I wasn’t even going to buy his latest LP Lazaretto. Partly because of his annoying business practices as of late, but mostly because his solo debut Blunderbuss just bored the fuck out of me. It wasn’t a bad LP, per say, but it was entirely forgettable, a record I’ve barely listened to since I first bought. And considering how often I still listen to The White Stripes catalog, that’s a bit of a surprise.
But then I read that Lazaretto had broken Pearl Jam’s longstanding record for the most vinyl sales in an opening week, with over 40,000 copies sold (some 7,000 more than Pearl Jam’s Vs. did in 1993). That’s probably largely in thanks to the cornucopia of gimmicks that White packed the album with (more on them in a bit) and not the actual music on the LP. And that’s kind of a shame because, despite my misgivings about White as a person, I’m going to have to begrudgingly admit that this album is pretty damn good.
While I found Blunderbuss to be a tiresome bore (an opinion that, I realize, was the extreme minority), Lazaretto is a shining example of what White does best, country, garage rock, blues and radical guitar solos, albeit with not enough solos for my taste.
What strikes me most about Lazaretto is its slow-burn intensity. The best songs on the LP, including “Three Women,” “Just One Drink” and the face-melting title track start quiet only to explode in your face with an enthusiastic fury reminiscent of the early White Stripes albums. Unfortunately, their energy and tempo makes the quieter ballads like “Entitlement” and “Temporary Ground” all the more languid and boring. I’ve never liked it when White slowed things down, and I still can’t stand it. Still, the good outweighs the bad, and while I don’t think the album is a smash-hit home run, it’s definitely worth the purchase.
But if it’s only better-than-average, than why is it flying off the shelves? Well, like I said before, the vinyl is packed with gimmicks, so many gimmicks in fact that White has coined the album an “Ultra LP,” a branding sign that signals to me that this won’t be the last LP out of Third Man to get the treatment.
What kind of gimmicks are we talking about? Let me go down the list:
- Two vinyl-only hidden tracks hidden beneath the center labels
- Reverse groove on Side A (plays from the inside out)
- Dual-groove track on side B that plays a different intro depending on where the needle is dropped
- A 78-style matte finish on Side B
- Locked grooves on both sides
- Flat-edged pressing
- Dead wax area on Side A contains a hand-etched hologram by Tristan Duke of Infinity Light Science, the first of its kind on a vinyl record
- Absolutely zero compression used during recording, mixing and mastering
- Different running order from the CD/digital version
- LP utilizes some mixes different from those used on CD and digital version
That sounds like a lot, and White sure has been out there marketing it as such, complete with a YouTube video hyping up all the “innovations” on the LP. But to be honest, most of them are pretty pointless, and some of them actually work to the album’s detriment.
Lets get the needless crap out of the way first; flat-edged pressing and a matte-finish – who cares? Most people won’t even notice the flat edge on the record (it’s not exactly a special thing) and the matte finish does nothing to make the record sound better or worse. It just makes it look like a 78. And unless you’re trapped in 1937 like Jack White is, that probably won’t matter to you.
As for the tricks with the album’s grooves, they’re interesting if somewhat pointless. I’ve always liked reverse grooves (when an album plays from the center out to the edge) and the idea of having one go into a locked groove (a short audio snippet that repeats until you pick up the needle) is pretty cool, but once again, it’s nothing spectacular.
And then there are the tricks that just straight up don’t work. On my copy the dual-grooved track, “Just One Drink” skipped at the point where intro segues into the main song. It would never work, no matter how many times I tried to get a clean play through. Of course, your results may be different, but I suspect that my copy isn’t the only one that will do this. Having two grooves merge into one sounds like a delicate process, and one that is ripe for errors. Unless they can fix this problem, I think it would be best forgotten for future releases.
Ditto for the “hologram.” I saw it on the YouTube video, it looks cool, but when I play the record I don’t see shit. I guess my lighting isn’t set up just right for it. But I sure as hell ain’t going to move my turntable to try and find a better angle. Once again, something this finicky should be abandoned going forward.
Oh, and those “under the label” tracks? No. I’m not going to put my $100 stylus on a record label. Jack, are you high? Wait, don’t answer that question.
As for the audio quality, White’s not bullshitting there, this record sounds spectacular, definitely a cut above the digital version. However, that’s not really because the LP was mastered or pressed particularly well, it’s because the digital copy was compressed to shit just like every other damn album that’s put out today. In the YouTube clip White touts that the vinyl version features none of the compression that the CD copy has. And you know what? That’s great, really, it’s awesome. However, why the fuck does the CD version have audio compression? Who does that benefit? Sure, it may not have clipping and, compared to other recent releases, it’s not that bad, but why even do it in the first place? It would be like giving you two perfect pizzas, taking a dump on one, and then acting proud that the shit-free pizza tastes better. It should taste better! No one shit on it!
Lazaretto: it’s like a pizza that no one shit on.
Seriously, it’s pretty good though, check it out.