Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Third Man Records Singles Collection 2010

If you read my review of the 2009 collection then you'd be aware that I sentiments of that release can be boiled down to 'very very awesome'. While this release is long out of date, I think it's important that I take a stab at every year of Third Man's output. So how does this LP stack up against the last one? Well... not that well.

This is a reluctant criticism because I think that there's a pretty clear explanation for this being a weaker album. I also don't want to imply that the overall quality of Third Man is slipping because Jack's touring hiatus seems to have manifested in a remarkably productive year for the label so far. However I just can't ignore the fact that when you compare this year's collection to last year's it comes off as inferior.

Let's have a look at the first and most obvious point of contention with this collection: album singles. Last year had three Dead Weather singles but also had the three amazing accompanying B-Side. The problem I have with the number of album singles in this compilation isn't so much the lack of new content but the clumsiness with which it's compiled. The two singles that bookend the album do so well, two great tracks from Karen Elson and Wanda Jackson that fit well with the albums they are lifted from while standing tall by themselves. However I can't say the same about the Dead Weather, no effort is made to have a less sudden intro to Old Mary and Blue Blood Blues clumsily cuts out once the crossfade to Hustle & Cuss begins as if you've put the album on shuffle. It's unprofessional and counterintuitive, if Third Man are trying to preserve the art form of the 7" single than they should make them actually sound like singles rather than cheap radio samplers lifted from an album. The live version of Jawbreaker is certainly glorious but it feels out of place in the company of various studio cuts and I can't see why Old Mary, a track that I feel can only be appreciated in the context of Sea Of Cowards, is stuck on the end of Die By The Drop. Karen Elson's Season Of The Witch is the only thing that approaches the quality of last year's Dead Weather B-Sides while The Greenhornes give us the nice Stay Together, a track that I'm glad to have but one that doesn't live up to the strengths of ****. This is all symptomatic of a good thing though, Third Man released three great full length LPs last year and what we lose here is made up in other places. Still, I'm reviewing this collection not those albums so my criticism sticks.

Perhaps more importantly, do the stand-alone singles hold up well against last years offering? They do okay but there was no Wind Did Move or House of Peace amongst this year's batch. The stand out Blue Series is The Secret Sisters, who beat the Smoke Faries out for top spot of innapropriate-yet-awesome-Jack-White-meets-high-pictched-female-duo-collaboration. It's catchy, has the hallmarks of a Jack White number, features some great singing and genuinely pushes boundaries. Pujol comes close to this quality but is let down by having two very similar songs and a far superior representation of his work out on TMR's live series. Once again 2010's strengths are found in other places. This also goes for Conan O'Brian, whose single doesn't come close in terms of weirdness, humour or entertainment to his Third Man live album. He also fails to live up to the Green Series standard set by BP Fallon... however that's a hard ask.

The other singles are enjoyable but more or less unremarkable. Drakkar Sauna combine easy listening and surrealism well but you don't find yourself rushing to put the needle back to the beginning of the track. The Thornbills are similarly enjoyable but too passive in their delivery to really grab you. The Smoke Fairies, Rachelle Garniez and Secret Sisters all had similarly laid back styles but TMR pushed them to make something great while The Thornbills, to their own detriment, are left to their own devices producing a single that is good but perhaps not as good as it could be. Laura Marling is perhaps the most accurate representation of this trend. She's a great singer singing great songs yet this feels more like a good radio session than a major single release. If you're going to do a straight cover of Needle & The Damage Done then I think something more needs to be done and as it stand this version never pushes itself.

The art of the Rock N' Roll 45 is saying everything you can with two short songs, an art form perfected by Third Man in 2009. I don't think this mantra was closely followed in 2010 even when there is greatness underpinning the music. This record is by no means an unpleasant listen and I am glad I own it but it feels more like a great iTunes playlist then a great record and to me that feels at odds with the Third Man philosophy.

Friday, August 5, 2011

To The Two Big "J"s

When exactly is that collaboration going to appear?

The Rac Album - Consoler of 99 Problems by hannibal_lusty

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Join The Vault Now!

It's been a while since I've done a song and I've got a bit of spare time so hopefully we'll see De Stijl begin over the next few weeks but first I want to talk about some exciting Third Man News.

First off I have to admit a dark secret: I, on occasion, dream about Vault packages. It's not some weird occurring thing, and before you ask it's perfectly asexual but whenever an announcement is scheduled for the next day or so my subconscious can't help but have weird thoughts about what the Bens and Jack might come up with. The dreams are always weird packages featuring sessions you never thought existed or concerts that no one has ever heard but Blackwell assures are amazing. So I woke up this morning to the most recent Vault announcement and my first thought was, is this another Vault dream? You mean to tell me that The White Stripes recorded Love and Otis Redding covers in 1997? You're actually releasing the final show, which I carry around a bootleg of on my iPod, as a soundboard on 180 gram vinyl? There's a fucking uncirculated DVD from 2000 that's being shipped to my house in June? You have to forgive me for thinking this is a dream because the content is so left-field and so deliciously deep into the fanboy mindset that it's bizarre just thinking about these releases having their own album artwork.

What should we expect from this package?

First off the single is anyones guess. I'm pretty sure no one has ever heard these tracks before or even know they existed. Not only does this predate the earliest recorded material by the band, Let's Shake Hand, it even predates the earliest circulating bootleg recording. We're through the looking glass here people.

Jumping to the next era of the band we've got a DVD from 2000, just after the release of De Stijl. Assuming that it's a soundboard recording of the concert than this would make it the earliest soundboard recording of the White Stripes readily available, let alone the earliest live Stripes show officially released. If that doesn't get you a bit aroused then consider that before today there was no known recording, audio or video, of this concert in fact the fucking set list wasn't even known to anyone!

And then we come to my favourite part, the LP of the White Stripes final concert which I actually do know something about. The show is not a Last Waltz-esque tribute to the bands entire career, we have Under Nov Scotian Lights for that kind of thing. No, this is an entirely different beast. You can hear that Jack's moving on to different things, his voice is more subtle, more expressive, a far cry from the shrieking of 1997 that's for sure. When he sings Same Boy You've Always Known it's as if he wants to be more like Bob Dylan and less like Gun Club. On the same note he delivers a melancholy solo performance of 300 MPH Torrential Outpour Blues, not unlike a folky Dylan. If you'll indulge me on this tangent Jack would go on to perform with Dylan later that year. Of course they can still thrash as well as ever. There's an intense scream-fest in set-opener Stop Breaking Down but the other blues songs, like a rare performance of Phonograph Blues show a new maturity in their understanding of the blues, an epiphany brought on by their Mississippi environment. There's a general sense of the band growing too big for itself, Jack wants to break out into bigger things and the minimalism has reached it's natural course but he lets go of the Stripes' old conventions without contempt, but with affection. There's a sultry take of Apple Blossom, a funked-up reworking of Astro and some of the greatest guitar work ever captured on Ball & Biscuit. They sound tired and the end of an era looms over the show but they still play beautiful music one last time and we're lucky to be able to hear it. At the end of Boll Weevil he tells the crowd, I don't wanna go but I gotta go and that sums it all up. There's still so much joy left in this pairing but ultimately the band has run it's course and concluded the journey they started ten years ago.

So I'm pretty sure I'm not dreaming and that we are getting this stuff but holy crap is this a good way to pay tribute to our favourite red and white duo. If you're not a member of the Vault and can scrape together the cash you HAVE to sign up now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#20 I Fought Piranhas

I want it to be a struggle

- Jack White

Oh Jack, it’s always about the struggle with you, isn’t it? Despite the playful colors, and ‘child-like’ innocence there’s something very dark and depressed about The White Stripes at their core. Why shouldn’t they be? Jack and Meg sought to express themselves through the ultimate form of musically destitute darkness, the blues. And lest we not forget that aside from the guitar scales and 12-bars the blues is primarily about one thing: pain. But it’s unfair to categorize the blues as some kind of Afro-American proto-emo, it was never all about reminding people of their problems, or even sharing them, it was true escapism. These stories that grew out of the cotton-fields of the south may have drawn on destitution to stay relatable but this music was still, to it’s listeners, entertainment, a release and a distraction rather than a consolidation of their woes.

The White Stripes in many ways get this more than anyone else trying to recreate the blues today. They don’t use the pain and the struggle as the draw card, it keeps you interested but it’s not the source of the actual enjoyment. Because when Jack White sings ‘there can’t be love, because there is no true love’ he’s singing it under the guise of the red and white clad brother to Meg White, a character more than a person. So is the man a fraud? ‘Who gives a fuck’ is the most reasonable answer to that question. Last year Jack got into some pretty hyperbole-fueled hot water when he described Bob Dylan as inauthentic compared to, wait for it, Britney Spears and while I’m sure everyone here doesn’t like to think of those two compared seriously it’s a perfectly valid and very relevant point, particularly in regards to Jack himself. People like Dylan and Jack are all about playing with the emotions and thoughts that are going to get at their audience, drawing from the tradition that they like, not the on that they’re ‘from’. The pain, love and other feelings might, and probably are in some way, still there but they’re channeled through a fictitious stage persona to create something appealing and that connects. If you’re still annoyed at John Gillis calling Robert Zimmerman a fraud then you can stop reading.

But perhaps I Fought Piranhas is the peeling away of these layers to reveal a truly exposed singer but then again this could easily be another character. Let’s remember that taking the White Stripes’ first album as a cohesive whole, Jack is not in a good frame of mind. The entire album is based around an endless struggle with a society that’s cold and unforgiving, as well as himself. As the album comes to a close we're seeing a broken man in both the music and the lyrics. That tortured slide playing stutters over his cheap guitar, occasionally breaking into sporadic bursts of energy that evoke someone bashing their head against the wall. Towards the end Jack (or possibly Johnny Walker) stops actually soloing and begins to just climb up the fret board slowly climaxing as the staccato banging plays out in the background. Just when it seems like some kind of cathartic release will come, the guitar just burns out with a gentle strum of a chord and then the album is over.

It’s almost as if after fighting for so long throughout the album Jack has resigned himself to reality, content to stop being the angry young man. The Big Three killed his baby; he doesn’t know if he loves Suzy Lee anymore and he's dreaming of guns, tanks and cannons as John The Revelator looms on the horizon; he’s wasting his time while everyone else just hides their secrets, doing the astro; the bricks are broken; he doesn’t know what to do when he hears his name but then again: he’s got a little feeling going. But it’s not wallowing, it’s not aimless rebellion, despite the angry emotions of Detroit that color this album Jack White is too sophisticated to boil emotions down so simply. In the end ‘you know what it’s like, [he] don’t gotta tell you’.

Jack White is capable and interested in exploring his emotions and letting them out but in the end he is a man of his craft, first and foremost. After the seismic blur of noise and anger that is The White Stripes’ debut it’s clear that a new much more sophisticated direction is in the works..

But that is another story.