Cheap trick or blues breaker?

Third Man WPIn recent years ‘B-Side’ has become a dust covered word, consigned to inhabit wherever record collectors hang out in search of a gem left off an album, a strange cover version or a rare live cut from last year’s tour.

With the demise of the single, where do artists put their strange experiments in 2014?

“Experiments!?! Experiments?!?,” I hear Simon Cowell cry. Yet, not everyone wants their pop hopping and leaping from the speakers blinding us with its shiny radio friendly perfection.

Modern blues experimentalist, Jack White, records his imagination for his LP tracks, often showing White busting the Blues to an inch of its life. He has always had this to his music. So, why tuck away your innovation for the fans who buy such releases rather than for the wider world to hear and to help them to understand the noises in your head?

White’s latest release, Lazarretto, does not suffer from over experimentalisation. But it is filled with brain frazzling fretwork, peculiar noises, off kilter piano and an extraordinary blues-rock howl.

On the album opener, White states he has three women, ‘Red, blonde and brunette,’ and feigns shock and horror in such an over-dramatic black southern accent you wonder what you’ve let yourself in for.

Yet with ‘That Black Bat Licorice’ White revisits the wilder elements of Elephant and Get Behind Me Satan era Stripes as he continues with a quirkiness that is often so rare in American artists. ‘High Ball Stepper’ is a huge instrumental laden with glorious distortion and a playful call.

jackwhitehologramAre these the songs that White wrote when he was 19 years old and rediscovered years later in his attic that lead to Lazaretto selling over 138,000 in it’s first week of release, with 40,000 of those on vinyl?

No.

Is it not that good then?

Oh, it is good. Brilliant even.

But there’s something else within the limited edition “Ultra” LP which gets the collectors, and hipsters, hot under the collar. Not only are there the 11 listed tracks but also 10 unique gimmicks, including dual groove intros, songs hidden under the centre label, holograms which materialise as the record is being played and songs at 33, 45 and 78 rpm. The latter apparently a world first.

As per usual with White’s Third Man releases, he insists on giving the punters more than music in his own quest to keep vinyl sales turing over. With close to 300 limited releases in 13 years their impact is more important than revenue.

While it could be aimed squarely at selling records through a gimmick, it is nothing new. As discussed elsewhere on this blog, bands have been encouraging fans to buy limited editions for years.

I have no problem with it. I love this side to my addiction, er… no, addiction is right.

For White, I wonder if he wishes to get the maximum out of the format? To push the boundary of one speed and two sides. It certainly encouraged me to buy the vinyl. But CD is so boring these days and MP3s are an empty void. Yet as a music fan and collector, with vinyl being my preferred format, I didn’t feel conned, more, excited by it.

The music contained within these secret grooves at various speeds is some of White’s very best. Imagine the backlash if you had to shell out $50 for a transparent selection of humdrum songs for the Pope. Perhaps that’s why U2 gave their record away?

Thanks to www.aux.tv for the gif.

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