Arts, Music, Review

Jack White Reaches Outside Rock for ‘Boarding House Reach’



Jack White is easily one of the most eccentric and, frankly, weirdest artists alive today.  There’s no way around it. His new solo album Boarding House Reach confirms the fact that he’s getting weirder and weirder with each new song he writes. It still includes hints of his classic fuzzed-out rock awesomeness, but it’s updated by an electronic and experimental spin that will leave some listeners scratching their heads.

First of all, there’s a lot of instrumental prowess in the album that you don’t have to dig too deep to find. This is Jack White we’re talking about.

For example, “Over and Over and Over” features a catchy fuzz-guitar riff throughout the whole song, and it’s the only track on the album that really makes you want to get up and dance. It harkens back to White’s White Stripes and Raconteurs era with its closer adherence to his more traditional rock sound, and its tone is reminiscent of his 2014 solo album Lazaretto, particularly its title track—just listen to the first few seconds of both.

“Hypermisophoniac” is an interesting track in how it seems to blend White’s new unorthodox endeavor with music that won’t leave his listeners too confused. The song builds and evolves tremendously over the course of its three and a half minutes: It begins with an arrhythmic pitch-bending synth riff that sounds bizarre and out of place at first, but as the rest of the song fills in around it, becomes an attractive and characterizing embodiment of the song. Cool solos on guitar and piano sprinkled throughout also contribute to making “Hypermisophoniac” one of the highlights of Boarding House Reach.

“Corporation” is a track that settles into more of a groove than most of the others.  At the 23-second mark, you’re hit abruptly with a jumpy, teeter-tottering funk piano riff that sounds like it’s played on a super overdriven Rhodes, and this repeating riff is one of the more musically tasteful and pleasing parts of the album.

White demonstrates his versatility when he essentially raps on “Ice Station Zebra,” and while the song’s musicality isn’t particularly impressive or memorable, its social commentary is.  White’s lyrics argue that it’s a waste of time and creativity to blame someone for copying small things from their creative influences: “Everyone creating is a member of the family / Passing down genes and ideas in harmony / The players and the cynics might be thinking it’s odd / But if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying God.”

Though there’s some instrumental talent on display, the vast majority of the songs on Boarding House Reach don’t come across as conducive for a live performance setting.

There are a lot of monologue interlude tracks such as “Abulia and Akrasia” and “Ezmerelda Steals the Show” that come across as boring and hard to understand. Some other tracks stick out from the crowd, but not necessarily in a good way. “Respect Commander” sounds straight out of a spy movie scene, and “Everything You’ve Ever Learned” begins with an unsettling dystopian repetition of “Hello, welcome to Everything You’ve Ever Learned—brought to you by …” that sounds like a broken record. However, it quickly turns into an edgy, head-thrashing exhibit of fast-paced, harsh garage rock that’s equally as unsettling.

White takes an especially strange turn for the last couple of tracks, which seem out of place, even on such a bizarre album.  “What’s Done is Done” includes a curious dichotomy between its sweeter, country-sounding melody and its dark, melancholy lyrics, in which White croons, “What’s done is done / I just can’t fight it no more / So I’m walkin’ downtown to the store / And I’m buying a gun.”  White then concludes the album with the stripped-down, folk-sounding “Humoresque.”

Your opinion of the album might come down to your thoughts on whether artist have a duty to their listeners to create conventionally listenable music.  White has accrued quite the fan base over the course of his extensive and prosperous career in the rock industry, and perhaps some of his more avid fans will embrace it. After all, weirdness is an inherent part of White’s music that you can’t really ignore—he comes as a package deal. And does anyone really deserve to be chained down by the demands of music consumers?  Can’t White make whatever music he wants?

But many people who appreciate his music might be turned away by paths he’s been taking more recently. People on the other side of this argument would say that, as a professional musician making a lot of money, White is indeed obligated to consider his listeners and what they would want, but his release of an album like this serves to make the statement that he doesn’t really care what people think.

Featured Image by Third Man Records

March 25, 2018