Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, part 19

Third Man Records recently revealed the contents of its nineteenth quarterly Vault package. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the independent label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service normally offers two exclusive vinyl records – one full-length 12-inch LP and one 7-inch single – and an additional bonus item to its Platinum members every three months. However, the Vault package for the first quarter of 2014 will instead consist of four 7-inch singles.

Vault packages usually feature recordings not available elsewhere, but that will not be the case this time around. This package will feature newly remastered reissues of the four singles from the White Stripes’ 2003 album Elephant. These four singles were originally issued in 2003 and 2004, and they will soon be reissued for the general public in plain black vinyl editions.

What makes these singles exclusive for Vault members? The limited edition Vault copies will be packaged together as a box set, will be pressed in fancy colored vinyl, and will also be packaged in fancier sleeves. In the words of the Third Man website:

Each of these tracks has been remastered from the original analog sources, and in the case of "…March" and "Piranhas" where there were no analog masters, we used only the finest digital files that could withstand sitting unused on a hard drive for over ten years.

The artwork on all the singles has been tidied up, spell-checked and given that special Third Man "je ne sais quoi". "There's No Home For You Here”, which was originally coupled with a generic company sleeve, now has stunning new artwork. It looks electrifying!

And these sleeves FEEL amazing. Employing a process called (we're not making this up) "soft touch aqueous coating" each of these glue-pocket sleeves feels like a hybrid between rubber and lambskin. It's difficult to describe, but immediately noticeable and amazing in person. Each record will be pressed on clear vinyl with an added vinyl highlight color insertion of either red, black or white. For "There's No Home…" all three of those colors will be added to clear vinyl, to make something truly exciting. All of this will be housed in a custom-made telescoping box, so that these singles can forever live together with distinction in your record collection. Later in 2014 each of the singles will be available individually, on black vinyl, with no box, to the general public.

I don’t doubt that these items will be visually remarkable. However, because there is no exclusive music being offered here, I do not feel that the package will be worth the quarterly price of a Platinum Vault membership. I have been a member of the Vault since it was begun in 2009, but I will be sitting this quarter out.

I’ll still review the package’s four singles.

The “Seven Nation Army’’ single was originally released in 2003 by XL Recordings, catalogue no. XLS 162. "Seven Nation Army" has become the White Stripes' best-known song, built on a sturdy and rhythmic guitar riff that resembles a bass line. The song helped to give a whole new 21st century respectability to garage rock, not to mention the blues. Its B-side is a cover of Brendan Benson’s 2002 song “Good To Me”, a rock and roll love song to a car, an amp, and a girl – in that order. The Stripes naturally give the song a minimalist treatment, propelled briskly by Meg White’s fast-paced drum-bashing. Its only flaw is Jack White’s lead vocal, which simply isn’t as good as Benson’s was on the original. This song was a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the Elephant CD.

The second single from Elephant was a cover of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, originally released as XL catalogue no. XLS 166. That song is traditionally a pop ballad, but the Stripes were able to turn it into a garage-rock tune without making it obnoxious. Their version is punctuated by thudding guitar-and-drum sounds during the slower-tempo sections, building up to a more intense midsection and finale. The B-side was “Who’s To Say”, a cover of a country rock ballad by the Detroit band called Blanche. The Stripes’ version is superior to Blanche’s version in every way, as Jack White’s singing and playing give it far more feeling. This song was the other bonus track on the Japanese version of the Elephant CD.

The third single from Elephant was “The Hardest Button To Button”, originally released as XL catalogue no XLS 173. The song effectively uses Meg’s thumping drumming and Jack’s pulsating guitar leads to illustrate the tension of family angst. The B-side was “St Ides of March”, a cover of a song by the Soledad Brothers, recorded during a soundcheck in Berlin in April 2003. It’s a raw and spontaneous-sounding slow blues jam, with a guitar sound that hits just the right spot. (Cautionary note: the word on the web is that the 2014 Vault reissue of this single is plagued with sound anomalies that resemble surface noise).

The fourth, final, and least-famous single from Elephant was “There’s No Home For You Here”, originally released in 2004 as XL catalogue no. XLS 181. The song has a quirky sort of power-pop sound that was not typical for the Stripes. The grandiose chorus is reminiscent of Cheap Trick, while the stanzas recall Steely Dan with almost-spoken-word lyrics and subtle use of keyboards. Not exactly a commercial song – which is probably the reason why the single never charted – but it’s a good one. The B-side was a medley of “I Fought Piranhas” (from the first White Stripes album) and “Let’s Build A Home” (from De Stijl) recorded live at Electric Lady Studios in New York in November 2003. “I Fought Piranhas” goes on for three-and-a-half minutes, and adequately serves the purpose of a slow buildup, but the payoff comes from the furious sub-two-minute burst of “Let’s Build A Home”. (The 2014 reissue has new cover art to replace the unprepossessing company sleeve in which the single was originally packaged).

White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” (b/w “Good To Me”) (Third Man single TMR-262) 2014

Track Listing:

a. Seven Nation Army
b. Good To Me

White Stripes “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” (b/w “Who’s To Say”) (Third Man single TMR-263) 2014

Track Listing:

a. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
b. Who’s To Say

White Stripes “The Hardest Button To Button” (b/w “St Ides Of March”) (Third Man single TMR-264) 2014

Track Listing:

a. The Hardest Button To Button
b. St Ides Of March

White Stripes “There’s No Home For You Here” (b/w “I Fought Piranhas/Let’s Build A Home”) (Third Man single TMR-265) 2014

Track Listing:

a. There’s No Home For You Here
b. I Fought Piranhas / Let’s Build A Home (Live at Electric Lady Studios)

Reviews of other Third Man Vault packages