The meaning of “lazaretto” is a hospital for people with infectious diseases, most notably the plague or leprosy. For Jack White, Lazaretto is the name of his upcoming album that is sure to grip people by the throat, and either force them to listen or force them to play around with the Ultra LP features that will accompany the new vinyl. Chances are, the June 10 release of Lazaretto will do both.
At times, it seems as though Jack White has been transported from a different era and has been dropped directly into the digital age of iPods, Facebook, Twitter and the fancy gadgets that accompany the twenty-first century. In a performance with The White Stripes in 2004, White said in front of a large audience, “I’m in the right place, wrong time? That is how I feel every day.” Luckily, he is here now and is attempting to open the ears and the minds of music enthusiasts while pointing them in the direction of vinyl records and analog recordings.
Since founding the record label Third Man Records in Detroit in 2001, and then moving it to Nashville, Tennessee in 2009, the mastermind behind Lazaretto has sent fans and music listeners into a rabbit hole, whipping them into a whirlwind of recording that is more tried-and-true as opposed to anything that is over-the-top experimental. There does not appear to be any rhyme or reason why the versatile musician does the things he does, but instead he seems to march to the beat of his own drum, and so far, fans are marching along and beating to the sounds of Jack White’s drum.
In an age when the image of a rock god seems to have died, or is at the very least buried deep into the unknown, Jack White stands near the top of the amplifier stack, somewhat unassuming yet determined to guide music lovers in the right direction. Being a member of multiple bands, including The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and Dead Weather, always appears to have his pulse on the latest innovations and a solid understanding of what people yearn for and desire. On one level, technology is amazing, and it makes lives easier and things more accessible, but at times it can also feel a bit overwhelming. There is also something missing in the digital medium when matched up against vinyl and analog recordings. It is quite clear in the sound that something is amiss, something that is apparent and unmistakable when digital mediums are compared side by side with a vinyl record. Yes, it is great to be able to take an iPod or some type of MP3 player on a long road trip, throw on a playlist of 5,000 songs and cruise across America while listening to everything from Mozart to Metallica, from The Rolling Stones to The Raconteurs. But while at home, vinyl is still the most appealing way to listen to older bands, as well as newer up-and-coming groups. There is a warmness that breathes off of the needle and there is something sexy about the way the needle drops and the feeling one gets when the first note is heard through the speakers. It might be old school, but Jack White is reinventing the vinyl record in a whole new way.
Jack White’s follow-up to his number one album, and first ever solo release, Blunderbuss in 2012 will be titled Lazaretto, due to drop in record stores on June 10. But beware, this will not be your average nostalgic and scratchy vinyl that your parents spun in the basement while burning incense and slow-dancing underneath a series of Sputnik ceiling lights. Lazaretto is what White is calling an Ultra LP, and is something that will boast a number of unusual features and gimmicks that include a dual-groove technology that will allow listeners to hear either an acoustic or electric intro to one song, before the grooves merge together into the remainder of the tune. It will also include things like hidden songs that can be played through the paper label, a matte black finish on the B side, and a locked groove on side A that will repeat infinitely. On top of these unusual gimmicks, the vinyl will also include a hologram that can be seen as the record spins.
There is no doubt that Jack White has his pulse on the industry and is hoping that these type of features might steer people closer to vinyl, because they give music listeners more options. In the last four years, the vinyl industry has seen a 144 percent growth, and based on the popularity of White and Third Man Records, it is an industry that will most likely continue to grow. Some people are on the hunt for a feel of nostalgia, and while White is at the forefront of producing the wants of the people, his image and style of music also oozes and drips that same nostalgic feel. Some want a bit of a return to an older age—a day when rock gods roamed the music halls and true rock stars shredded arenas and blew an audience out of their seats. It is something that has been missing in music for the last couple of decades, as the rocker has been replaced by reality stars and bickering band members that spout off on social media and in front of the television cameras. It is only rock and roll, but people want more of it, and for now, Jack White seems to be the troubadour and the raconteur that gives a sense of hope to the future of music.
While some bands and people in the music industry fight to stay relevant in an age when music stores have been forced to close their doors and bands find themselves on the road for longer periods of time to promote new work while making a living on the road, Jack White has been able to dive back into a medium that was popular half a century ago and revive it. He has been able to look back so that the music industry can move forward, and while nostalgic television shows like Mad Men continue to be successful, the vintage trend that people are yearning for just might strike a chord with a large contingent of music fans.
It is time to strap up, suit up and get tossed into the world of Jack White. It is not clear where he will lead his allegiance of fans, but whether it whips them through the 1950’s, 60’s or far off into the future, one thing is clear, it should be a fun ride. While it is yet to be determined how his upcoming release of Lazaretto will be received by the masses, it is clear that White is innovating, and for most fans of music, this can be seen as nothing but a good thing. So, if lazaretto is a place for the plagued, consider Jack White’s legions of fans to be lepers, just looking to get a taste of the inside of Lazaretto—a funky place with dual grooves, holograms, hidden songs, and yes, some good old rock and roll.
Opinion by Johnny Caito