Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 20: Jack White "Lazaretto"
Last week I received the twentieth set of exclusive vinyl items offered to Platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its Platinum members every three months. According to the postal service, my package was sent on June 2nd. I received it on the 4th.
This twentieth set of items includes a vinyl LP edition of White’s 2014 studio album Lazaretto, a 7-inch single containing demo versions of two of its tracks, and a bonus book to supplement the album.
First of all, I want to say that I was very excited to receive this package six days before the album’s official release date of June 10th. The album came with a download card so that the member could obtain mp3’s of the tracks, but I was not able to use it immediately because the album was not released yet. Now that made me feel like I was holding an exclusive item in my hands. And it felt good in my hands, too, because the album’s jacket and inner sleeve both have the feel of soft touch aqueous coating.
The fancy vinyl Vault LP of Lazaretto is pressed in striking blue-and-white split-colored vinyl, and its cover art is a black-and-white variation of the CD’s cover art. It features the same elaborate gimmicks as the plain black “Ultra-LP”. Let’s examine those features, as enumerated on the Third Man website:
- 180 gram vinyl – The record does feel like it is that weight, although it looks thinner than other 180 gram records I’ve seen.
- 2 vinyl-only hidden tracks hidden beneath the center labels – I wish I could play them. My needle arm doesn’t go that far over.
- 1 hidden track plays at 78 RPM, one plays at 45 RPM, making this a 3-speed record – Neat trick. Too bad I can’t play those two tracks. But, thanks to this YouTube video, I have at least heard the two hidden tracks. The hidden track on Side One, which plays at 78 RPM, has White apparently starting to play a loose cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Pusherman". The hidden track on Side Two, which plays at 45 RPM, has the sound of a baby singing "da da da da". Both of these tracks are very short in length, and are very distorted due to the center labels they are pressed under.
- Side A plays from the inside out – Yes, it does! Very unique. If you try to play it from the outside in at the beginning, you will hear a repetitive locked groove. Just be careful where you put the needle down; don’t place it on the dead wax where the hologram is.
- Dual-groove technology: 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 – Another neat trick. The acoustic guitar-and-violin intro is preferable to the electric one (the electric intro is the one that starts off the CD version). One problem with the electric intro on this LP: its groove does not transition as smoothly into the body of the song.
- Matte finish on Side B, giving the appearance of an un-played 78 RPM record – The second side does look noticeably different than the shinier first side, but both sides are appealing to look at. Okay, so now I know what an un-played blue-and-white 78 record would look like.
- Both sides end with locked grooves – At the end (beginning?) of Side One, the locked groove repeatedly plays a short line of electric guitar dissonance. The locked groove at the end of the second side repeatedly plays the sound of birds cawing.
- Vinyl pressed in seldom-used flat-edged format – The edge of the record does look a bit flatter than most, something I never would have noticed if it wasn’t pointed out.
- 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 – If you shine a flashlight on the dead wax while playing Side One, you will be able to see an image of a spinning angel. It’s easier to see it on the blue vinyl than on the white. Don’t drop your needle here; make sure you start in the grooves of the first (last?) track.
- Zero compression used in the mastering – This is very noticeable. The analog mastering gives the LP a refreshingly organic sound, much like a 1970’s recording.
- Different running order from the CD/digital version – On the CD/digital version, “Entitlement” is track eight and “That Black Bat Licorice” is track nine. On this LP, those two tracks are reversed.
- LP utilizes some mixes different from those used on CD and digital version – “Entitlement” has the most noticeably different mix, with the instrumentation farther back in the mix on the LP version. There are minor differences in sound on some other tracks, but that is probably due to the differences between the analog and digital media.
Now that we’ve discussed all of the bells and whistles, it’s time to get down to the music. How is the album itself?
Lazaretto is not the raw type of album that we expect from Mr. White. With the exceptions of the title track and “That Bat Black Licorice”, this album generally consists of less aggressive types of roots-rock songs than usual. White says that this album was in the making for a year and a half, as opposed to the usual three weeks that he normally takes to record an album, and that many of the lyrics were written long after the music was composed. (One track, “High Ball Stepper”, is in fact an instrumental that would not sound out of place on a White Stripes or Dead Weather album). The material does have a more multi-layered sound than most of White’s past work, with more studio-based arrangements and more diverse types of instrumentation from larger numbers of backing musicians (most of them from the Buzzards and the Peacocks, his touring bands). Even when White is alone on “Want And Able”, it seems like a far cry from the minimalism of his earlier years. Although Jack describes himself as “so Detroit” in the lyrics of the title song, the less intense sounds on Lazaretto suggest that living in Nashville is taking the Motor City out of the boy.
When White does get down and dirty on this album, he does it in old-fangled ways. The opening track “Three Women” is a modernization of a 1928 Blind Willie McTell blues song about a three-timing ladies’ man. And White comes on like Mick Jagger on “Just One Drink”, a not-so-heavy song about an alcoholic couple. It's reminiscent of the early-'70's Stones.
Other tracks show different shades of White. “Temporary Ground” and the pointed “Entitlement” have gentle country leanings, while the more intricate “Would You Fight For My Love?” and “Alone In My Home” border on ‘70’s and ‘80’s pop. The latter song is a particularly infectious tune that looks at the bright side of isolation, and stays in your head long after the album is over.
Time will tell if these mellower tendencies displayed on Lazaretto are a sign of a new musical direction for White, or merely an accidental result of taking a long break between recording sessions. For now, we can enjoy Lazaretto as a partial change of pace for White, who is now exploring a more Southern variety of the blues. This album is not quite the equal of his solo debut Blunderbuss, but it probably wasn't meant to be. On many levels, the 39-minute Lazaretto makes a whole different statement.
The 7-inch single (pressed in blue vinyl) contains demos of two of the songs from Lazaretto, recorded by White while in Mexico. The acoustic demo of “Alone In My Home” on the A-side has its own surprising emotional power. This version of the song about isolation sounds somewhat somber, in contrast to the more sprightly version on the finished album. It’s able to stand on its own as a cogent lo-fi ballad that would do Neil Young proud. The demo of “Entitlement” on the B-side hints at a moodier sound than the understated country-rock flavor that the finished version came to have. Its muddy organ sound is mildly haunting; this demo would make a fairly good track if it were part of a low-budget indie-rock album. And both of these demos would serve as good bonus tracks on a future edition of Lazaretto.
The bonus Lazaretto book is a handsome little hardbound companion piece to the album, containing approximately 40 pages of song lyrics, credits, sheet music, photos taken during recording sessions, an official press release from April 2014, and White’s personal insights about how this album was a less spontaneous work for him than most. The front cover shows a photograph of a young boy from the National Archives and Records Administration, the same photo used for the fold-out poster included with this LP. And the book feels good when you hold it in your hands, suggesting that it was also printed with soft touch aqueous coating. To top it off, there is also an “old-style postcard” glued inside a pouch inside the book’s back cover, but I’ve been unable to remove it for fear of tearing it. No big deal there.
A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the forgotten practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The A-side of the single has “L’Esprit” and “GEO/NRP” carved in the dead wax; the B-side has “L’Escalier” and “GEO/NRP” carved. The first side of the LP has the aforementioned hologram etched; Side Two has unreadable words/numbers carved in it.
Jack White “Lazaretto” LP (Third Man TMR-271) 2014
1. Three Women
3. Temporary Ground
4. Would You Fight For My Love?
5. High Ball Stepper
6. Just One Drink
7. Alone In My Home
8. That Black Bat Licorice
10. I Think I Found The Culprit
11. Want And Able
Jack White “Alone In My Home” (demo) b/w “Entitlement” (demo) (Third Man single TMR 275) 2014
a. Alone In My Home (demo)
b. Entitlement (demo)
Bonus book (Third Man Books TMR-279):
White, Jack. Lazaretto. Nashville: Third Man Books, 2014.