Sunday, July 27, 2014

Album Listening Club - Lazaretto discussion post!

I resolve to cut my use of exclamation points. Really.

I don't think he believes me.
Anyway, let's do this! You chose Jack White's Lazaretto as our first record to listen to and there couldn't have been one much hotter (except for Weird Al's Mandatory Fun - maybe we'll discuss that one in the future :).

Lazaretto - Jack White's second solo album - set the one-week vinyl sales record with 40,000 copies (the most since Billboard started keeping track of vinyl sales in 1991) and sold 138,000 copies overall in its first week. Pretty impressive nowadays, considering that Weird Al took the #1 album sales slot with 104,000 this past week.

The album seems to have generally positive reviews - even Pitchfork gave it a 7.1 (which doesn't seem like a ringing endorsement to me, but the words favor the album.)

What did *I* think of the record? I'll post my reaction in the comments. You're encouraged to do the same!

35 comments:

  1. The short of it is - I didn't really care for this record. It had some good riffs, and I liked some of the odd/strange sounds, but it's not something that I'd buy for myself or listen to on a regular basis. It doesn't have singles I want to come back to, and it doesn't have a full album arc that satisfies with multiple listens.

    I have a long history of knowing & liking the blues (thanks, Dad!), and also experimental-style music. This album seemed to me to work both angles and not to much success in my view.

    Favorite song by far is "Alone in my Home" - I like the bouncy Warren Zevon-style piano & overall construction of the song. I do also like the rap-style spit lyrics of "Lazaretto" and "That Black Bat Licorice," but the songs themselves don't thrill me. "Lazaretto" has kind of grown on me, but it's still not something I'm jonesing to hear.

    So, that's my take. I did some looking around and found an article on the music review site Consequence of Sound about the song "Lazaretto," and I found myself agreeing with the site's editor, Michael Roffman: "Lately, White sounds too comfortable, hampered by the treacherous inhibitions of any rock star with too much access and very little restraint." Most every other reviewer loved the track.

    I'm looking forward to hearing from the people who love the record, telling me how wrong I am. :)

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  2. There is a lot of great individual instrumentation on the album and I found myself coming back to that track after track, but I think my initial reaction to Track 4 "Would You Fight For My Love" pretty much sums up the entire album for me:

    "This song is all over the place. Starts off sounding like a creepy gunfighter track, then turns more contemporary, then gets a bit instrumental. I like the drums in the beginning, they are great punctuation. Nice lyrics here. Track is too schizo for me to really identify with it."

    I've been a Jack White fan going all the way back and I like what he's trying to do here with the mish-mash of overlapping genres, but I think he has a ways to go yet with that. I found myself equally intrigued with the myriad of styles and instrumentation Jack incorporated in the album, while also being just as annoyed by what seemed at times like overkill.

    It has some good moments but I probably wouldn't give it more than 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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  3. When I listened to this I was completely meh about it. I think Blunderbuss was a fantastic album that I still listen to frequently. When I listened to Lazzaretto there was a "contrived" vibe I kept thinking of...like he was trying to add weird shit to add it and not advance the song or album. I truly believe that "blunderbuss" works on so many levels that this one doesn't. I love jack white though so maybe it'll grow on me or I'll like his next one better. :)

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    1. "Contrived"

      That was the perfect word to describe it. I couldn't agree more.

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    2. "Contrived" or maybe he was just trying to do too much, had too many disparate ideas. I'd be curious as to his thoughts on the album.

      Interesting that it's gotten such a positive critical review but was met with a lot of "meh" here. :)

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    3. His lyrics from Entitlement come to mind:
      "Every time I'm doing what I want to / Somebody comes and tells me it's wrong". But when listening to Lazaretto I can't help thinking about another set of lyrics, from Little Room: "and when you're in the bigger room / you might not know what to do / you might have to think of / how you got started in your little room"

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  4. (Reposting because my first comment got eaten.)

    I came to this album with an open mind, as I don't normally listen to this kind of music.

    However, I have to confess that none of the tracks really grabbed me. In fact, the only feeling I came away with was of exasperation, as the album seemed to drag on for a very long time.

    Overall, I give it a big fat 'meh'. Two stars out of 5 - it's not the worst album I've heard, but I've no reason to go back for a second listen.

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    1. Can you think of other albums or artists that make this type of music (fuzzed-out electric blues spiked with rootsy acoustic tunes) that you've had a better experience with?

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    2. (Late reply because I didn't get a notification that you'd replied. D'oh!)

      Off the top of my, nothing's coming to mind in that category. *shrug*

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    3. Ok, keep thinking, Alan. I'd love to hear music of that sort that you like. :)

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  5. I agree with the general sentiment here. What Sam said resonated with me, as I too picked up a Warren Zevon vibe from several of the tracks (Sorry for not being more specific, I only listened to it twice and didn't take notes). I like a lot of Zevon's work, but this didn't feel like someone who was influenced by Zevon as much as White trying mostly unsuccessfully to mimic his style.

    I liked the White Stripes (Am I alone in thinking "Doorbell" could be dropped somewhere in the middle of Led Zeppelin III and you would think it's a bonus track?) and I've really dug what I've heard from the Raconteurs so far, so I'm certainly not a Jack White basher, though not exactly a fan, either. I don't think I really listened to much from his first solo album. I should listen to that to compare and contrast, I think.

    Overall, a 5 out of 10. (BTW, my first comment got eaten by trying to preview it)

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    1. It's funny that you mention Zeppelin, in my track-by-track listening notes I wrote that "Lazaretto" had a bit of a Zeppelin vibe in parts. I guess with Jack singing in his high register sometimes and the blues-based music, that's bound to happen.

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  6. it ate my reply. So, here goes .... this is a chance for me to learn new music and maybe a new way to hear/listen to it as well. I was glad to read that I was not the only one to put on a different album when i thought to give this one a second listening. It will be listened to again, as I have learned that my fatigue level from working night shift does have an influence on my first impressions ( for music/shows/books). But it may not be any time soon and only after I have had a few days off.

    the album left me wanting

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    1. Listen at your leisure. :) As you can see, most people are confused a bit by the record and don't love it. Hell, just forget it and move on if it doesn't grab you. :)

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  7. I'm not a big JW fan even with White Stripes. I do like what he does w/The Dead Weather quite a bit though which is more of a collaboration. I didn't listen to Blunderbuss but only once so I come to this w/less enthusiasm than some. Having said all that I'm finding that this album is bringing greater rewards on the 3rd listen than on the first. It's one of those grower albums for me. First time around I wasn't excited about listening to it since there's so many more bands I find more interesting. But there are definitely some good songs like 'Lazaretto' , 'Alone In My Home', '3 Women' & 'High Ball Stepper'. I think my fave is 'Black Bat Licorice' though since it's the catchiest on the album for me. Like you said, it's not something that I'd buy. I more than likely will give it a listen every once in awhile though on Spotify.

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    1. Thanks, August! "Lazaretto" as a track is definitely growing on me, but I just find myself repeating the catchy parts in my head (and I don't really know them, so it's more of a general feel rather than the whole song). And nothing's catchy enough that I really want to hear it again. As you say, though, I'd probably be ok with a song or two coming up on a Spotify/Rdio/Pandora station once in a while.

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  8. I tried to listen to this album when it first came out because the dudes at the record shop were talking about the gimmicks of the vinyl. Didn't make it past the first song.

    I did better this time around - listened to it a couple times through - and while I liked some of the songs individually (esp. would you fight for my love), the album as a whole seemed really scattered. I can see where it would be fun to see Jack White play live, but I'm not sure I'm going to listen to it again.

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    1. I'm sure the live show shreds, especially with his other hits scattered about with these songs.

      As I mentioned before, I wonder what his thoughts are about the record, now that it's out. He seems like a perfectionist, but maybe he's more of a workaholic and this record wasn't as focused as others have been. It's interesting to watch the arc of an artist's career and see where the highs & lows come.

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  9. Jack White has evolved.
    I saw the White Stripes in Missoula, MT at a super small venue and hardly anyone showed up to their show. Just me and my friend Kia standing in front of one of Jack and Meg in awe.

    The thing is, I always loved the simple sound of the White Stripes. Jack was a amazing and Meg just kept up...and it sounded perfect.
    I cling to that moving into other music by Jack.
    But I can't say that I've followed him into any of his solo stuff or even his bands Raconteurs or The Dead Weather.
    I'm sure it's good, but I just loved how solid the White Stripes sound was...nothing extraneous.

    Lazaretto has lots of extraneous stuff going on in it. And if I subtract the fact that Jack is involved, it's a pretty rockin' collection of music.
    There is a lot going on, but it's fun and sexy.
    A lot bigger than anything else that I've heard him put together.

    Did it connect with me immediately? No.
    But that's why I like this forum. I probably wouldn't have given this one a listen. Not because I'm not interested, but because there's other stuff I'd rather listen to.
    But that's how I gauge an album. Was there something specific that caught me?
    And did something catch me? Not really.
    I really love Temporary Ground though. I love hearing Jack sing with other people. His voice is so perfect for that kind harmony.

    All in all, it's not an album I'm play all the way through the way I did while listening for this discussion, but if it came on while on shuffle...I'd be okay with it.

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    1. Tony's comment about "Temporary Ground" harkening to the Van Lear Rose collaboration with Loretta Lynn definitely brought me around to that song.

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  10. Lazaretto won the vote, so our interest was clearly there, but why don't we like it? I think it's an issue of taste. Jack White's, to be precise. He has always been known for impeccable taste with his previous projects, but here I hear him stumbling. Writing a chorus with "Lordy lord" as its only lyric? Bad taste. Rapping over a sinewy guitar line, like warmed-over Rage Against the Machine? Bad taste. Operatic backing vocals? You get the picture.

    There are truly inspired Jack White moments, too--his guitar tones are impeccable throughout, the fiddle funk solo break in Temporary Ground slays me, and Three Women's arrangement is just begging for placement in the next Tarantino film. But moments do not a classic album make.

    For my money, he brings it all together in High Ball Stepper, a rock n' roll instrumental in the tradition of Link Wray's Rumble that forces me to press repeat so I can trade off playing air drums and air guitar. The video (http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sRbnAxrS3EM) is terrific fun, too. But it's not enough to make me sorry I didn't buy the record.

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    1. Sam liked the rapping, you don't like it. i'm on the fence...leaning toward not liking it. i wonder what he sound like on a real hip hop track. his flow reminds me of eminem a little bit, maybe it's the Detroit accent?
      the thing i find odd about it, is in those rappy parts he has so many dang words to say, but the 'lordy lord' chorus, and the one about 'who is the who' - that's the best he could come up with for a chorus?

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    2. For JW, someone who seems to me to take care to always be authentic, those rapped verses sound to me like a put on, and perhaps that's what I hear to be bad taste. Not poor taste, which is different... just bad taste.

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    3. I don't mind the "Lordy Lord" chorus - it does harken to some simple blues tunes. I mean, with the blues it's about feeling, not necessarily virtuosity or cleverness. Something in his voice, though, doesn't feel like conviction. It sounds more like some dude playing at the boasting blues instead of the actual blues. The "who is the who" in "Want And Able" had me thinking of Dr. Seuss. Maybe good if you're Weird Al, but less so if you're Mr. Earnest Jack White (who has given us no reason to believe he's lightened in his mission).

      It occurs to me that I'd rather be listening to Band of Skulls - http://open.spotify.com/artist/4ddt8PPvmWrI9mJQy1VrIG - (or Denver's own Calder's Revolvers - http://open.spotify.com/artist/06vWWt6Q31ORq11M2mYKKu ) than this record.

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  11. seems the general sentiment here is 'meh', and i agree. previous albums from jack by the white stripes and raconteurs have found their way into heavy rotation at times around our house, but this one i got tired of listening after a while.
    one of my favorite things about mr. white as an artist is that he likes to apply restrictions to his creative process and take a less is more approach, but with this record he seemed to employ and everything and the kitchen sink approach. i started thinking that i would like some of these tracks better if they had a stripped down white stripes sound.
    that being said, my favorite little moments were from the added instruments, moog, violins and piano, especially.
    but overall, this felt a little over-stirred and became boring as a result.

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    1. Very much agreed that this album is all about excess and indulgence. It feels too busy at times. I'm not sure if stripping down would help it, but I can't see that it would hurt. Would be fun to have access to the tracks & listen with just guitar & drums, or piano & guitar, etc. Play around with what elements are prominent. Hell, Jack might even be up for that. :)

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  12. I'm going to go against the general consensus here and say I really like the album. Like August, I've found I like it better with each listen. I agree it's more a collection of songs than a cohesive album, but I'm OK with that. I've mostly listened to it while working, so it's fine that it's varied. On my "critical listen", I made a few notes. I won't bore you with all of them (track by track), but here are a few thoughts:

    Overall thought on the album: "A good old-fashioned blues album...as recorded by a time traveling alien from the future." (I may or may not have been cocktailing while listening...)

    Thoughts on a few tracks:

    "Three Women" - Bit of a 70's vibe. Jazzy/bluesy, Liked it a lot, but then I'm a sucker for a drum break.

    "Lazaretto" - Catchy. Scorching. Typical JW. Liked.

    "Temporary Ground" - Reminiscent of his Grammy winning collaboration with Loretta Lynn on Van Lear Rose. Liked.

    "Would You Fight For My Love?" - Starts slow, but builds. Haunting when the backing vocals kick in. Liked.

    "High Ball Stepper" - Catchy, but didn't like as much as the other tracks. Sounded too much like JW doing a Black Keys cover.

    "I Think I Found The Culprit" - Liked. I could see this song making its way onto the soundtrack for a second Firefly/Serenity movie.

    Other tracks I liked were "That Black Bat Licorice" and "Alone In My Home". The rest were OK, but nothing special.

    So, there were enough good tracks on this album to keep me coming back.

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    1. "Temporary Ground" definitely has that Van Lear Rose vibe.

      Listening further, I think his squeaky voice is a little off-putting at time, in certain contexts. Like in "Would You Fight For My Love?" And then the "Aaaaaah"s make it sound like the original Star Trek theme for me. :D

      Thanks for your (much needed) positive spin on the record!

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  13. Not really being a fan of the White Stripes, I wasn't really expecting much from Lazaretto. That said, I really liked the countryish tunes ("Just One Drink" and "Alone in My Home). I played the album through YouTube while I worked around the house. Those were the only tunes that made me go back to the computer to really listen to them. The rest was just ok, not bad but nothing that really floats my boat.

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    1. I love the "cleaning" test - where you put the record on while you're doing other stuff & see what really catches your ear that you have to come back to it. Kind of like the "car" test when mastering a record where you take a rough mix in the car & see how it sounds. :)

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    2. I do this myself at times with albums/artists I'm unfamiliar with, especially when I'm cooking dinner since I'm usually a captive audience while I'm in front of the stove. It works for me as well since inevitably there will be at least one standout track that the lyrics caught my ear or a chorus or whatever that I want to listen to more closely. For some reason, it doesn't always work when I'm in front of my computer to listen to something new since I'm usually concentrating on various other things (reading articles, researching, emailing or commenting on social media). So putting an album on while cooking works well. But then again, a lot of it depends on my mood too. So there's that as well.

      Btw, it would be great if there was a feature that would notify us of new comments so we can choose to keep up on the latest here.

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    3. Yes! I love listening to music while cooking, too. I tend to prefer music I'm familiar with & getting in a groove, but I can see it working while listening to music I'm not familiar with as well. :)

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  14. Can we start by admitting the obvious, that any and all Jack White solo product will always be compared to the White Stripes, and that most of us will always be comparing the two in that light?
    White’s previous and contemporary work breaks down neatly into three elements: writing, performance and recording. So, to Lazaretto.
    His vocal performances are just as ragged and emotive as they ever were – indeed, they may be the most consistent element of his entire ouvre.
    Musically, Jack White has always had a somewhat unique ability to write songs which encompass just enough blues clichés to sound familiar, yet still deviate from the bluesprint (ha) enough to sound interesting and listenable to those of us who don’t worship at the temple of Muddy Waters. He maintains this here, gratifyingly.
    The performances here are all… professional. They’re very competent. There’s nothing here that capsizes, and very little that soars. Maybe that's my biggest fault with this album - sonically and musically, there's very little risk and very little reward.
    The instrumentation is diverse – sometimes this to the music’s benefit and sometimes to its detriment. One can’t escape the feeling that, even after previous work with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather, he’s so exuberant to be free from the two-piece format that he may be overcompensating a little. "Three women" in particular cycles through so many instruments and styles in the context of trading fours that I quickly lose the ability to take it seriously.
    Lyrically, very little has changed, and that's fine. Jack white has always had my respect as a songwriter. He still does, but that songwriting sensibility was never quite as effective as when paired with the raw and brutal sonics of the White Stripes. In many ways, listening to the White Stripes felt a lot like listening early demo recordings of a band you liked after you'd already heard the finished product, and preferring them to the finished product.
    There’s nothing to hate on Lazaretto (and plenty to like - the title track and "black bat licorice" are genuinely worthwhile), but it feels like that finished product. It’s performed and recorded very well. It's solid, it's professional, it's polished, it's diverse. It's not like the white stripes at all. And every time it ends, I have "little ghost" stuck in my head.

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    1. I would disagree that there's too little risk, or perhaps it's that while in his wheelhouse, he goes a little too far afield, as mentioned before that he might be a little too unconstrained. Or that he may not have been as connected to the source material (reported to be writings from when he was in his teens/early 20s).

      "Lazaretto" the song grew on me for sure, but still not to the point that I'd seek it out to listen & put on again. Well, maybe once or twice, but mostly for the nostalgia that this being the first listening club album would bring. :)

      Thanks for the discourse! I don't know the White Stripes enough beyond White Blood Cells except the singles, and I don't know Raconteurs or Dead Weather enough to really speak to his oeuvre. I like your idea of the White Stripes being "early demo recordings," I feel like we've all done that. :) The only thing I want to do when this record ends is put on a record that I like. ;)

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  15. Just watching the Jack White Austin City Limits now, I realized something. In some of these "bigger" songs, he's not the right vocalist. There was a song that sounded like Jimmy Page playing guitar and I started talking with my dad about how awesome it would have been to have Robert Plant singing on the song instead of Jack, and I realized that's my issue with Jack's vocals. As a guitar player, he's really got it. He's got a great sound, a great playing style. As a vocalist, he leaves me cold.

    Imagine, if you will, some of these songs being sung by Robert Plant, or Janis Joplin, or Mavis Staples, or Axl Rose. I could go on. But I think that makes my point - Jack writes a hell of a song, but I'd like to hear him hand over singing duties.

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