by Jon Savage
I love rekkids. On an average day, a solid run-of-the-press Nina Simone LP can make my knees weak. But I also love Jack White. So in 2013, when Jack White announced that he had invented the Ultra LP for his forthcoming album, Lazaretto, I ordered mine before I could finish reading the sentence in which he was about to explain what it was.
I didn’t care. I had to have one. If Jack White pressed vinyl out of his own faeces and said it was cool, I’d have 6 on my shelf.
Early in 2014, Lazaretto arrived, a typically magnificent cover of JW, prince of eccentricity, sitting among a gathering of angel statuettes. On the back cover, my mind became obsessed over an evocative and arresting photograph of a dirt-faced young boy looking helplessly in to the lens (I’ll share the back cover picture and it’s insane story on our Needles From The Haystack Instagram page for those interested — CLICK HERE).
But does a magnificent cover an Ultra LP make? I think not.
Inside the magnificent cover is a truly magnificent album. Lazaretto is a beast of a record! It has all of the hallmarks that make anything Jack White creates so exciting. The guitar tones are raw, his voice teeters on madness, his lyrics sway from the hilarious to the heart-wrenching and his songs are injected with the authenticity of childhood careless sexual confusion and he delivers every line with rhythmic intelligence of a world class rapper (“I have to spit it out, whatever’s in my mouth just like black bat licorice”). The title track, Lazaretto, is a rock song created by the rock gods. Fucking perfect
But does a fantastic album and a magnificent cover an Ultra LP make? You might think it would be enough. But you’d be wrong.
Let’s move into Ultra LP territory:
I thought that my mind was playing tricks on me because I could not get “‘Three Women,” the opening track to play! I tried numerous times and kept getting stuck in an endless guitar loop (which i later discovered was put there to intentionally mess with you) until eventually, frustrated that the record was faulty, I dropped the needle randomly in the middle of the record and discovered something crazy. Side A plays inside out; from the label to the outermost edge of the record. This requires that you drop the needle down at the end of the record in order for the album to play forwards! Thanks for the heads up, Jack.
In addition, and I found this out quite by accident, there are bonus tracks hidden on this album. “Where would you hide bonus track on an LP?” is a sensible enough question … but could you hazard a guess before reading further?
This paragraph is here to give you another second to think…
The labels! Each of the labels are playable by dropping the needle on to the paper itself! Each side has a bonus track printed under the label and playable literally through them! And I’d love to tell you that I’ve heard both of them but I haven’t been able to because, to make things even more fun, one of the bonus tracks has to be played at 45rpm speed – that’s no problem – but the other has to be played at 78 which is a speed my record player can’t handle. Annoying but so cool!
And if you are impressed so far, you haven’t heard anything yet as we just scraped the tip of the acetate iceberg. The beginning of Side B (which plays forward, thankfully) starts with a killer song called “Just One Drink.” I listened to this album DOZENS of times before I began to figure out what the hell was going on with this song. I started to wonder if I was having mini-seizures in my day life and forgetting things that I was fairly certain had been there but that were not there now!
Let me explain this little piece of magic: the song has two intro’s – an acoustic one and an electric one – that are both pressed into alternate grooves on the record, so that it plays either one of them depending on where you put the needle down – before seamlessly integrating in to the rest of the song as if nothing odd has happened! You cannot choose which one you want to listen to – trust me, I’ve tried – but you can keep picking up and dropping the needle down in the same position until you’ve heard both song intro’s to confirm that you are indeed sane. This could only have come from the mind of a madman that even Steve Jobs might call ambitious.
Oh, there’s one more thing; one final piece of the puzzle, but possibly enough to deal a knockout orgasm for any collector. In the dead wax of one of the sides, there is a hand-etched hologram of a spinning angel, that can only be seen while the record is spinning and from the right angle with a light pointing at the record. I’ve posted a picture of it also on our Instagram page too, go and check it out here!)
On the eighth day, He made the Ultra LP and it was good.