“High Ball Stepper“, an instrumental track from Jack White’s upcoming second solo outing Lazaretto, doesn’t earn the tag ‘Best New Music’ because it is the best song to have slinked out of the enigmatic multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist former White Stripe, current Dead Weather member, possible remaining Raconteurs frontman and vinylphile’s oeuvre in recent years. It earns that tag simply because it heralds the return of the man himself.
In a music world where the lack of characters and the rise of the “not-very-fussed, I’m doing this cause I love the music” banality spreads like a community corrupting biblical plague as the years roll by, Jack White – with his jet black hair, off colour skin tone and ethereal presence – stands out in an ocean of blank faces in a way that only very few modern artists can replicate (see: St. Vincent, Ariel Pink, oh and that guy, what’s his name? Ah yes, David Bowie). Most music critics, nay, most people, love to tell us that this imposing presence of White’s, along with his love of ways of old, adoration of music on wax, and general niftiness at springing guitars up from thin air, a bit of plywood and a string, are too “of the past”, and that they should stay there.
Well rise up my vintage warriors – we’re here to tell them they’re wrong and “High Ball Stepper” will soundtrack our brave stand against modernity.
The track itself consists of that ringing bluesy guitar strut that White has long made his own. With a stomping Zeppelin drum beat to run with it, and an off kilter whistling that gives the instrumental its hook. This is more a taster of what White has been up to since his more personal Blunderbuss than anything else. While even the staunchest of Jack White fans would just prefer if he made up with Meg already, it is still curious to wonder if White will continue to throw back further into musical history (as he did with the likes of “Love Interruption”) or stand up to The Black Keys, who have taken over the throne in The White Stripes’ absence. The extra-terrestrial guitar explosion on this teaser is so satisfyingly LOUD that I think we might be in store for the latter.
Bottom line: while it’s never nice to see music so steeped in the past that the originality of ideas is lost to an endless recycling of old ones, it has been proven that aspects of musical history can be impressively reworked and repackaged into fresh and new sounds. White is an expert purveyor of this technique and while to some, he may be disgustingly retro, to me he is one of the best technicians of a six string (and other instruments) alive and making music today, and he is more than worthy of keeping an ear out for.
“High Ball Stepper”:
Words by Tony Inglis