Lazaretto, by Jack White (Album of the Week)

This album is like having a serious talk with an old friend who has eaten a pound bag of skittles and slammed a pint of espresso. Touching and meaningful, but out of control and a bit deranged. It’s brilliant, fun stuff, and it gets better each time you listen to it. Robin likes it, too, but that’s partially because she’s fascinated by Lazarettos, which were quarantine areas for people with communicable diseases. She’s a Public Health nerd who appreciates great music, so this is right up her alley.

Everything I have to say about this album ought to come with an asterisk, because as much as I loved it, I only listened to the MP3 version. It wasn’t till this morning that I found out about the Ultra Vinyl edition, which sounds like a complete mind-blower, with one side playing from the inside out, 3 different speeds, dual grooves that give you different intros to a song, tracks on the label, a hologram and more.

Jack White is obsessive about his music, as in, just this side of the nuthouse passionate about what he’s doing. It doesn’t surprise me that some are calling the album unhinged and messy, but they’re saying more about their unwillingness to go there than they are about the album itself. This album throws everything at you, and if you’re not able or willing to catch it all, I wouldn’t blame the pitcher.

The album starts off in classic style with “Three Women”, a funky and fun tribute to infidelity with three (red, blonde hair, and brunette) women, and closes with a bit of common-sense braggadocio –

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking
What gives you the right?

Well, these women must be getting something
Cause they come and see me every night”

It’s a joyful romp with exuberant guitar work throughout. In the next song, “Lazaretto”, the title track justifies his unwillingness to settle into one groove for the album – “And even God herself has fewer plans than me/But she never helps me out with my scams for free, though/She grabs a stick and then she pokes it at me.” This guy is clearly driven to create. If you’re keeping score, this one goes from rap to rock via a great guitar solo and strains of violin.

The most wonderfully insane song on the album is “Black Bat Licorice”, which starts out with a female vocalist telling him to “Behave yourself”, but he shakes loose from that advice and goes nuts with grinding guitars and jumpy bass work. His lyrics deal with the line of insanity, and he yearns for a more peaceful existence away from the voices in his head – “Don’t you want to lose the part of the brain that has opinions?/To not even know what you are doing, or care about yourself or your species in the billions.”

This album is not pure adrenaline – it has its slower songs, such as the closer, “Want and Able”, a folksy parable that addresses desire and ability as two characters, and ends with an awful lyric that makes you go back and listen again to this manic album of loss and pain:

Now, Want and Able are two different things
One is desire, and the other is the means
Like I wanna hold you, and see you, and feel you in my dreams
But that’s not possible, something simply will not let me

At only 39 minutes, this is a short album, but it’s probably the biggest album I’ve listened to all year. Musically, it features an absoute virtuoso working his hardest at a creative peak. Lyrically, it’s serious but not self-serious, and there’s a lot of fun in it. I know after spending one week with this album that it is going to stay with me as one of the best albums in my collection.

Up next: Put Your Needle Down, by The Secret Sisters

One Response to “Lazaretto, by Jack White (Album of the Week)”

  1. [...] Dan writes that “after spending one week with this album that it is going to stay with me as one of the best albums in my collection.” Wow! While we won’t be bickering this week, I won’t go as far as him in praising this album.  [...]

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