By Nicola Shannon
Jack White: the pale, dark-haired and always painfully cool rocker from Detroit is best known for his work as the front man for The White Stripes. He has also played for The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather and has collaborated with other accomplished musicians such as Beck, The Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys, Loretta Lynn and Bob Dylan. This summer, the world saw him sitting poised among stone statues of angels on the cover of his second solo album, “Lazaretto.”
“Lazaretto” was released June 10 through Third Man Records after an 18 month long recording endeavor. This long process paid off without a doubt as “Lazaretto” made the number one spot on the Billboard 200 Chart and sold 138 thousand copies within the first week of its release.
Some of the songs on “Lazaretto” were said to be inspired by poems and plays White wrote when he was 19. Although “Lazaretto” stays true to his roots as a rock musician, White explores many more styles in this album. He includes powerful piano and whining country fiddle among many featured instruments that create a full and complicated sound. This breaks away from the minimalist drum, guitar and vocals that made up the White Stripes.
The opening song, “Three Women,” is a boisterous remake of “Three Women Blues” by Blind Willie McTell. The tracks “Just One Drink” and “Entitlement” are performed in an almost honkey-tonk style. Both the title track and “That Black Bat Licorice” include bold, boisterous lyrics performed in a sort of rock-rap. “High Ball Stepper’s” crashing beat carries a bizarre, high pitched fiddle/vocal sound effect throughout the song.
Most songs are highlighted with at least one powerful steely solo, showcasing White’s virtuoso guitar skills. However, softer tracks like “Entitlement” and “Temporary Ground” are what reminds us that White is indeed human, as he croons about feeling lost or about his place in a spoiled and repressive world.
The appeal isn’t all in its content, however. One of the most exciting things about the album’s release was the production of a vinyl edition of the album called the “Ultra LP.” White and his team at Third Man Records created a vinyl full of mysteries and never-before-seen features.
Besides having a different track order than the compressed CD, the Ultra LP plays from the inside of the record out on side A, and ends with a locked groove at the outer edge, which plays infinitely when the needle hits it. The first track (“One More Drink”) on side B has both an acoustic intro and an electric intro, depending on what grove the needle is placed on, which merge as the song progresses. There are hidden songs under the paper label on each side of the album, which can be played through the paper in a scratchy but exciting discovery of sound. Perhaps the most exciting feature, the Ultra LP’s side A includes a first-of-its-kind hologram etching of two spinning angels engraved in the very vinyl itself. This futuristic musical art can be seen if light is shined at the record as it spins.
Whether it was White’s expanded arsenal of blues-rap-country-rock bringing in a new crowd, or the treasure chest of a vinyl he produced bringing in curious old time record connoisseurs, “Lazaretto” was a phenomenally well received addition to this summer’s musical collection. Considering all the ground-breaking new features and the unabridged effort that went into the album, I have to say: in my opinion, “Lazaretto” is flawless.