Album Review: Jack White - Boarding House Reach
Last year, Britpop veteran Noel Gallagher shocked the music world with Who Built the Moon? his surprisingly unconventional third album under the High Flying Birds moniker. The album wasn’t that experimental, but Gallagher is so notoriously conservative that even something vaguely different was a pleasant surprise. Jack White, the former guitarist for garage rock icons The White Stripes, is not as conservative as Gallagher. However, since going solo, White has stayed relatively close to his comfort zone. His second album, 2014’s Lazaretto, lavished up the instrumentation a little, but it still retained White’s same old indie/blues-rock sound. This year, however, White is back with Boarding House Reach. Ever since he started recording his third solo album, White has hyped up its weirdness. Even so, no one was fully prepared for how wild it turned out.
White doesn’t delve straight into experimental madness, initially maintaining his typical bluesy songwriting, just bolstered by some new ideas. Lead single Connected by Love builds palpable tension between its passionate vocals and brooding synths. This culminates in a blistering organ solo that’s seamlessly taken over by a distorted guitar as if White’s old and new sounds are both fighting for attention. What’s Done is Done is another blues song, this time driven by cold electronic beats to emphasise the depressing emptiness of the lyrics. Over and Over and Over is the closest to classic White, probably because it was originally written 13 years ago for the White Stripes. It’s an electrifying garage rocker, powered by a ferociously fuzzy riff and flourishes of bongos and pitch-shifted vocals.
Elsewhere, however, White has drastically experimented, expanding his blues-rock roots to incorporate elements of electronica, funk, hip-hop and jazz. He throws in dozens of diverse sounds, like a mad scientist concocting a potion from the contents of a hoarder’s basement. The result is a fractured, volatile sound that comes together remarkably coherently whilst constantly keeping the listener on their toes. Ice Station Zebra opens with White rapping explosively over maximalist, G-funk tinged production before making a smooth, neo-soul turn towards the end. Similarly, Respect Commander begins fast and funky and finishes heavy and sludgy. Corporation is a lively and infectious electro-funk track, whereas Humoresque brings the album to a surprisingly calm close with cool, jazzy piano and serene vocals.
After White greets the listener in a freaky, salesman-like voice, the track becomes a commanding lifestyle lecture, like a more aggressive take on Talking Head’s Once in a Lifetime mixed with Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free.
– Nathan Brooks
Why Walk a Dog? delves into more alien territory for White as he drowns his paranoid vocals in droning, psychedelic organs. Hypermisophoniac relentlessly disorients the listener with erratic vocal effects and a hypnotic electronic buzz panned severely to the right channel. Get in the Mind Shaft bursts with the most delirious influences, from P-Funk to Daft Punk to Yoshimi-era The Flaming Lips. Three surreal spoken word interludes break up these tracks. Abulia and Akrasia features Australian blues artist C.W. Stoneking dramatically requesting a cup of tea, whilst Ezmerelda Steals the Show explores the folky and fantastical. However, Everything You’ve Ever Learned is the most striking. After White greets the listener in a freaky, salesman-like voice, the track becomes a commanding lifestyle lecture, like a more aggressive take on Talking Head’s Once in a Lifetime mixed with Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free.
The reception to this album has been unsurprisingly polarised. Critics and audiences either love it or loathe it, with few in between. As someone who naturally gravitates towards the weirdest an artist has to offer, I’m firmly in the love camp. Jack White’s latest – and best – solo album is an intense, riotous experiment. Pulling itself apart one second and piling on top of itself the next, Boarding House Reach bamboozles, astounds and exhilarates the listener at every possible moment.
The Breakdown | Album Review: Jack White – Boarding House Reach
Unlike recent albums from artists like Noel Gallagher, Jack White’s Boarding House Reach more than lives up to its promises of uncompromising experimentation, pulling together a shedload of sounds and ideas to create his most unique and compelling project since the White Stripes broke up.