This was released in 2014, so, yes, I’m 4 years late to the party, but at least I turned up.
In 1799, after one-tenth of the population of Philadelphia perished with yellow fever six years earlier, the city built a quarantine station to house the infected in an attempt to control any further epidemics. Known as a Lazaretto, the hospital – the first of its kind in the US – would detain and examine ships’ passengers and cargo suspected of contagion, a piece of knowledge that I had to look up as I had no idea. In the context of this album it makes a sort of sense as this was a turbulent time in Jack White’s private life as he went through a not entirely amicable divorce, restraining orders and property disputes.
Coming two years after his debut solo album, Blunderbus, it would seem to be not at all unreasonable to expect that his evolution from the limitations of two piece The White Stripes would have been accepted but this is not universally the case, with some commentators still bemoaning that it is not The White Stripes, well of course it isn’t. In Lazaretto we are presented with songs still drawing influence from the old sources but not restricted by them. Album opener Three Women does not go as far as re-working Blind Willie McTell’s 1928 “Three Women Blues.” but is more a starting point for the telling of a modern version of the story, drifting away from the opening line of I’ve got three women, red, blonde and brunette and finding it’s own story path.
The title track features some Spanish lyrics: “Yo trabajo duro, como en madera y yeso,” which roughly translates to “I work hard, like in wood and plaster.” White explained his use of Spanish to NPR: “The character who’s singing this song is bragging about himself, but he’s actually bragging about real things he’s actually accomplished and real things that he actually does, not imaginary things or things he would like to do,” he said. “Because sometimes you see people who, they sing from the heart, but they haven’t done anything, you know? And their lives are not very interesting or whatever. So this character in this song actually has worked very hard in his life and he’s done some interesting things.” This goes some way to dispel suggestions that the song is autobiographical, but with White you never quite now,
Some of Lazaretto’s lyrics were inspired by short stories and plays White wrote when he was 19 after he’d dropped out of Wayne State University. He came across the box containing his prose in his attic and though much of it was embarrassing, with just the odd phrase and character being salvageable. “I thought, ‘What if you write a song with yourself?’ Collaborate with your 19-year-old self on a song,” White told The Observer, before quipping: “And don’t give him any royalties.”
It was the first single taken from the album backed by a cover of Elvis Presley’s song “Power of My Love.” and a limited edition 7-inch of the song was recorded, pressed and released in 3 hours, 55 minutes and 21 seconds, breaking the world record for the world’s fastest released disc.
Before we go any further I really should talk about the record itself, not the music but the actual artefact, the Ultra edition. The record has a number of unique features that aren’t really found on other records, at least not all together, some have been done before.
It has 2 vinyl-only hidden tracks hidden beneath the center labels one of which plays at 78 RPM and one at 45 RPM, making this a 3-speed record. Side A plays from the inside out. It has Dual-groove technology and plays an electric or acoustic intro for “Just One Drink” depending on where needle is dropped. The grooves meet for the body of the song. It also has Matte finish on Side B, giving the appearance of an un-played 78 RPM record. Both sides end with locked grooves which esenntially play a few seconds of sound forever. The vinyl pressed in seldom-used flat-edged format. The 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. There was no compression used during recording, mixing and mastering, it has a different running order from the CD/digital version and the LP utilises some mixes different from those used on CD and digital version. It makes for an interesting and unusual object. It is demonstrated well by White himself in the video below:
Over a decade ago I started to really get into Americana, which is a bit of a broad term, in this case it is American Roots music, so this can be Country, Blues, Bluegrass, Folk and new music that uses all these traditional music forms as inspiration, some examples being Gillian Welch, Jim White, Granddaddy and Ryan Adams, there are lots more. I mention this because there was a time when a track like Temporary Ground would have been of little interest, but now I get it and like it.
It’s a good album I think but despite its unique pressing, or because of it, it is a pain in the arse to actually play. I can’t remember to play from the inside out and have already started one side at the end.
1 Three WomenWritten – Blind Willie McTell
3 Temporary Ground
4 Would You Fight For My Love?
5 High Ball Stepper
6 Just One Drink
7 Alone In My Home
9 That Black Bat Licorice
10 I Think I Found The Culprit
11 Want And Able
The lyrics can be heavy going at times, such as on Would You Fight For My Love? above, White lays himself bare emotionally and occasionally he descends into self-pity. Demonstrated on the track Entitlement, in which he says he’s sick of being told what to do and suggests that today’s youth are spoilt brats. Overall it’s a fine sophomore album that doesn’t merit some of the harsh criticism levelled at it, or at least I don’t think so as I really enjoyed it as a whole.
I have all the White Stripes albums but this is the first of his solo material that I’ve picked up. I’ll probably have to get the rest now.