I’d Like To Go Down The Lazaretto with Jack White EVERY DAY
Do not adjust your eyeballs. You are, in fact, reading a late-to-the-game review of Lazaretto. Here’s what happened. I was scheduled to write something for philly.com just like the few other times I have (tUnE-yArDs, St. Vincent, Mac Demarco, etc.) but instead I got very very sick…with a kidney infection…because I am stupid. But it happens. I could barely take a deep breath without riving in pain, so sitting upright in a chair while being a human being and wrapping my head around an album I strangely still didn’t like wasn’t really an option for me.
An “album I strangely still didn’t like” just came out naturally. You’re probably thinking, but, no, Sarah. Not you. Not the JACK WHITE fangirl. You need to love JACK and everything he does.
Well, here we have it. I’m allowed to disagree with JACK sometimes. (Couples do that all the time.)
Maybe I needed more time? Or a little space? I was lying in bed for four days straight unable to move until Western medicine kicked in and I could only think about my hydration schedule. Dare I say, I was trapped in my own Lazaretto.
I wanted (I want) to like this album because “High Ball Stepper” rocks so hard, forces me to play air guitar, and as the lead single, it reminds us that JACK WHITE is punk enough to tell everyone else to fuck off: he’ll release a new instrumental single (with some vocal screeching) that makes you say, oh yea….ROCK music! I remember you!
Then there’s the album opener “Three Women.” It has a great hook played around on piano, a B3 organ and other “keys.” Corey Younts plays the mandolin AND that absolutely ass ripping harmonica solo that kicks in at 3:30 and closes out the track.
Daru Jones might be the best rock drummer we’ve all never heard of. (He plays on “Three Women”, “Lazaretto” and “Would You Fight For My Love?” and my FAVORITE JACK WHITE solo track “Trash Tongue Talker” from Blunderbuss.) His fusion of jazz, rock and jam drumming on the “Lazaretto” illustrates the different planes JACK can make music move on. And the lyrics tell us that his writing is still sharp with lines like “But even God herself has fewer plans than me”, “born rotten, bored rotten/making models of humans/out of coffee and cotton” and the unforgettable “when I say nothing/I say everything,” which reminds us that the opposite is also true: when you say too much, you say nothing at all.
“Lazaretto” closing with a fiddle solo is the most punk thing anyone has accomplished this side of Joe Strummer. Then it just changes into the slower paced “Temporary Ground” (about Queen Victoria lily pads that can hold up to 100 lbs) that plays with the violin and with your imagination.
Between Jones’ pattern drumming, the african drum, moog, timpani, upright bass and that dark piano hook on “Would You Fight For My Love?” and the folk story of “Alone In My Home” (which also credits harp, mandolin and two different people playing the shaker) this album has a lot of different faces.
Wait. It sounds like I really like this record.
There are a few tracks I feel overwhelmed by, that we could all do with out. “Entitlement” feels too easy. I prefer a cliche metaphor or story rather than “I’m tired of being told what to do” in a charming, slowly paced acoustic number. I’d rather have an Elephant era JACK screaming this in my face over twisted guitar phrases. “Just One Drink” sounds like a soda commercial (yet I find myself singing along to it, dammit). “I Think I Found The Culprit” and “Want And Able” leave me feeling empty. The layered guitar solo that closes out Blunderbuss on “Take Me With You When You Go” (and the piano and the fiddle and those drum fills and the rhodes and, well, all of it) kicks so much ass that I skip over Lazaretto‘s closing tracks every time I listen to it – which isn’t often – because I know there’s a better back end of a JACK WHITE record out there.
Not to mention the awful album art. I remember the first day I saw it and I thought, this is the dumbest album cover ever. And then I immediately went and pre-ordered the Ultra LP for myself because JACK WHITE. The angel statues are a lot (especially as a throne) as is the blue shiny suit. But at least it’s tight and a tight suit on JACK WHITE makes Sarah happy, so I’ll deal. But between that and the sports car doing donuts and the smashed everything in the otherwise VERY cool “Lazaretto” video, I wonder, maybe he does think he’s cool enough to get away with a fast car in his music videos. Note: he’s not. Either way, let’s have another look at this video because it is otherwise a fine-ass tight patterned suit.
Lazaretto is so much more about all the different things JACK can do than the concept of one album-one sound. JACK WHITE is a concept man and so he doesn’t always need to make a concept record. He will never ask for your permission and he doesn’t ever do the same thing twice. Which means I can’t complain. He’s a unique voice in the industry who preserves what he truly believes in and makes excellent music that is never afraid to start a new conversation. And of course the production value is crystal clear – so what am even I complaining about?
Especially where there’s the otherwise extremely-too-cool-for-fucking-school redeemable genius “Ultra LP.” The vinyl plays from the inside-out on side A and the outside in on side B. There are hidden tracks under the labels, two of which play at different speeds making it a three speed record. And if you shine a fucking light on the vinyl while its playing, a goddamned hologram of a goddamned angel appears. One side is matte and one side glossy. It’s got a flat edge format. You can order it and get the full Ultra details here and watch Jimmy Fallon interview JACK being funny and cute on The Tonight Show here.
So it’s a toss up between love and hate and Lazaretto. I will put up with a few lousy tracks for some weird genius to share his wacky and brilliant ideas with me. And after digesting the tracks more seriously, they’re all tight, well written songs – songs that don’t sound like anything else out there, which is what the world needs more of (always). This record has been written about for more than two months now, but I feel obligated to deliver something. That and I have now coined the phrase “absolutely ass ripping harmonica solo,” so I think my job here is done.