Sometimes history can prove us wrong. This can be a good thing or bad. It all depends on your outlook. At 19 I first bought The Clash’s London Calling. My excitement was pretty high because I was in a serious punk phase at the time. The excitement on the bus home was palpable. At the tender age of 18, Pearl Jam’s Ten made its debut in my life. A similar experience of anticipation as with London Calling, but both albums seriously bummed me out. The disappointment lay in that only maybe one or two tracks from each album impressed. I’d heard so much about them that the excitement made me think these albums would be more than they were. After listening to them they felt boring. Cheesy. Shit was I mistaken.
The power of albums such as London Calling and Ten was in their staying power. Unwilling to give up on them, they slowly gained more of my respect with every listen. Gem after gem appeared. The realisation strike that albums shouldn’t be discarded after one or two cursory listens. That’s not natural. Things grow on you.
There’s a back story to my reasons for disliking aspects of the album at first listen and unfortunately it has very little to do with the music but more to do with Jack’s personality. Prior to release, Jack had very negative things to say about the Black Keys and how they are stealing his style, however if you ask any blues man, he’ll tell you that’s all part of it. Music is borrowed and bitten and Jack himself is standing on some pretty tall shoulders, as I’m sure he’d gladly admit.
So it was with this in my head that I hit play to hear his loose re-write of Blind Willie McTell’s lyrics on opening track “Three Women.” Musically it reeks of Jack’s new style. It’s a deep mix of jazz blues, honky tonk piano with a hint of electronic effects as well as his stretching guitar riffs. It’s got quite a jumpy beat with a lot of different instruments that combine well. Lazaretto’s fuzzy guitar funk sound is torn apart by one of those famously unpredictable solos. He drifts in and out of different moods with the song. Very enjoyable. “Temporary Ground” is a more laid back country track complete with fine lap steel guitar. However the hook with the female voice slows the pace of the track and doesn’t deliver the payoff, for which I think Jack was aiming. Musically it’s nice though.
From here the album really steps up its game; “Would You Fight For My Love” is a sweet song, heartfelt and rocking. The piano is melancholic and the vocal harmonies click perfectly. “High Ball Stepper” is without doubt the finest track on the album, instrumental and powerful. Maybe not after the first listen if you know Jacks history but with more listens, the more it grows. It has a sound similar to Rage Against The Machine except with piano and high pitch vocal whooping instead of political rapping. “Just One Drink” and “Alone In My Home” are both songs that could feel at home on the White Stripes album Get Behind Me Satan. They’re playful and fun; similar to “Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy” from Jack’s first solo album, 2012’s Blunderbuss. “That Black Bat Liquorice” is a guitar heavy track with tons of Jack’s signature guitar lines.
From here the last two tracks are a major letdown. “I Think I Found The Culprit” has some great piano moments but feels contrived lyrically. Musically “Want and Able” is beautiful, but the chorus is quite underwhelming. “Who Is The Who” sounds like Dr. Seuss.
Overall this album is a good example of Jack trying new things. He deserves respect for that but sometimes things don’t work. Already I’ve changed my opinion of the album as a whole and whereas some songs are a letdown, as a whole it is satisying. I hope history proves me wrong and the album is a grower like London Calling and Ten. But for now “High Ball Stepper” will be my post party tune to rock out to for the summer. It will be a highlight of Jack’s Dublin gig this month.