Yes, I bought this record initially for the vinyl trickery. This "Ultra LP" –– as Jack White and his Third Man Records label have dubbed it –– is crammed to the brim with weird little features that I've never seen on a record before. They had a NINE MINUTE demonstration video of how to play the record and after watching I immediately pre–ordered it. I'm a sucker. Now, was it worth it–
Since the White Stripes broke up due to Meg's crippling anxieties and stage fright, Jack has kept busy. First with The Raconteurs, a decent blues rock band but pretty vanilla (like the Stripes with less heart), and then with Dead Weather who were more interesting with those female vocals but still failed to make much of an impression me. 2012's Blunderbuss was his first time going solo and he started off solid, but it felt like he didn't fully go for it. Mr. Joe Pelone agrees. But rather than just download this new one or buy the CD, considering White's great musical history and all these crazy vinyl tricks –– all for the price of most standard vinyl LPs –– Lazarettowas worth the gamble.
When the mail came, I tore it open and put it on immediately, first to try and see the angel hologram appear. The engaging features encourage you to interact with the physical record, and I'm sure I listened to it quicker than if it were just a download lost in my iTunes. Wait, back up. Hologram–! Side A of the record has an extra unplayable section near the label that has what looks like random scratches on it. Turns out that these etchings, done by hand by artist Tristan Duke, are supposed to produce two one–and–a–half–inch angel–like images (to go along with the angel statues on the cover) –– one right side up, one upside down –– when the record is spinning. The first time I put it on my modern turntable I couldn't see it. I was bummed. Turned out it just didn't have enough light on it, as my turntable is under a shelf. I tried again later on my old record console which is less obscured from the top, and while I still had to put a flashlight above it and put my head right next to the side of the platter, I finally saw the hologram. COOL. First time something like that has been done on a record. Go to the six–minute mark on the video linked above to see the hologram. I probably won't get out a flashlight and peep the angel often, but I'm sure I'll do it whenever a vinyl lover comes over.
What about the goddamn music– "Three Women" starts off with reverbed organ and rolls into some 12–bar blues held up by slide guitar and piano. It's very… let's say… Jack White. It reminds you instantly of the White Stripes but with extra technical flair, and the burst of double time at the end takes it over the top. The title track is a less expected cut, with a snakey groove powered by the buzziest of bass tones and single–string guitar playing the main lick, with little synth bloops popping up in your right ear. My favorite song at this moment is "Would You Fight For My Love–" which showcases White's knack for queuing up some of the most kick–ass instrument tones around –– the organ that doubles the backing vocals in the track's back half is some evil gospel–type shit. And the bass in the little breakdown is fantastic. This, of course, goes right along with the amazing guitar tones throughout the record, crackling and bursting from the speakers. This is a vintage gear lovers' wet dream. The way the song creeps forward through frequent dynamic shifts is captivating. "High Ball Stepper" rocks the hardest on the record, with crazy squealing guitar solos and fuzzy riffs. It's essentially an instrumental, with only a repeating motif of a super–high falsetto scream.
"Alone in My Home" starts with downright pretty piano. It bops along, a duet between Jack and Lillie Mae Rische, and contains only subtle acoustic guitar. Despite being a ripping guitarist, White has filled out the album with a wealth of other instrumentation, never relying on his soloing ability. This album is much more diverse than any Stripes album. It lacks some of the gritty and raw, sloppy emotion, but as far as an eclectic mix of well–written tunes, this is it. He goes full '70s–Stones–style country on "Entitlement" and nails it.
Lyrically, White is more than three years distanced from his divorce with model/singer Karen Elson, so the words contained here are not quite as much of a bummer as Blunderbuss; more fictitious in origin and sometimes celebratory. The already discussed "Three Women" is just that. Different ladies in each port– White hasn't spent a lot of his career away from wives and female bandmates, so it's time to play ladies man I suppose– Or perhaps it's just a play on old bluesy topics, poking at the borderline misogynistic Stones songs. Other topics White loves pop up, ghosts, for one, on "Alone in My Home."
If you didn't watch the video, let's go over the rest of the special features. Side A plays from the inside out. Seems silly, but it does force the listener to be more hands–on with the record. You can't just hit the start button on your turntable, you actually need to place the arm. When side A reaches the outside there is a locked groove, looping some crazy guitar noise endlessly. It engages you with the album, forcing you to get off your ass and stop the A side after you've listened to your preferred amount of noise. Side B plays from the outside like normal, and the first song, "Just One Drink," has your choice of intros. There is both an acoustic–based intro and electric intro that both end up in the same main song. I don't know how this works physically. You have to physically place the needle for the intro you want.
On "The Tonight Show", White also informs us that" It also makes pizza and drives you to work in the morning."
Along with the record's eleven songs, you get two B–sides hidden beneath the labels. That's right, drop the needle ON THE LABEL in the middle of the record. One of them plays at 45 rpm and one at 78 rpm. So… most of you won't be able to listen to that one at the right speed. I however, can't listen to either. Both of my turntables refuse to play when they hit the paper and just bounce right back up when I put the needle down. Dang. If anyone can tell me how to get around this, please do.
Besides the under–the–label songs being a bust, I am very happy with my purchase. From the Third Man Records website, the LP is only 20 bucks, and I'd expect to spend around that for any vinyl album purchase. Currently it's out of stock from them, but it seems to be pricier elsewhere. Music alone it's worth the price –– a fun, eclectic, dynamic outing that will make any fan of White's career more than satisfied. The vinyl tricks on the surface are gimmicky, but they do get you to pay more attention to the record itself and therefore the music as well.