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REVIEW: Jack White perplexes on experimental ‘Boarding House Reach’

When you’re in your little room…

Jack White has let all of his creative muses out to play in Boarding House Reach

Jack White Boarding House Reach coverAh, Jack White. Known to many as the Willy Wonka of rock n’ roll, White has been known to be exceedingly unconventional and eccentric in his approach to pretty much everything. It is a huge part of his allure and charm as an artist. His third solo LP Boarding House Reach which just came out today is certainly no exception.

This time however, White REALLY got unconventional and eccentric. Far more so than he usually does. This album goes in so many directions at once and has very little in the way of any solid structure. It is a melting pot in the truest sense of the term.

Where in the past Jack White has been known and celebrated for his way of using minimalism to make the most out of a little, this album throws all of that out the window entirely. This is Jack White completely unchained and unrestricted in any way, shape, or form.

Perhaps he got tired of that and wanted to try something different for a change. This also filters into the approach he took toward recording the album, as he tossed aside his analog tape for a computer and Pro Tools (much to the shock and disappointment of long time fans).

To give those who follow White an idea of what this record is like think of his song “High Ball Stepper”, but on steroids for the majority of the LP.

Boarding House Reach throws in so many genres from funk, to jazz, to blues, to hip-hop, to rock, to metal, to Latin, to so much more. All of it is thrown together in a myriad of ways.

The best way to describe it however is this is Jack White doing what Jack White wants to do, saying the hell with whatever anyone else wants or expects of him.

One of the more followable songs from the album is the first single “Connected By Love”. It is a very synth heavy ballad, but at the same time there are still plenty of real instruments like electric and acoustic guitars, piano, drums, bass, etc to be heard. It is a powerful and moving song where the raw passion of White’s voice truly shines through.

Things get weird though in tunes like “Respect Commander”, “Corporation”, “Why Walk a Dog”, and honestly most of the rest of the album. There are almost no memorable melodies and not a whole lot of actual singing.

A lot of it sounds like reciting poetry or only using singing intermittently as an accent to whatever seemingly random direction the music is taking next.

“Hypermisophoniac” is probably where things get the strangest. In an interview White actually said one of the main purposes of this song was to have as many annoying sounds in it as possible. Needless to say, he definitely succeeded.

There are some more traditionally formatted songs on the record though, to help balance things out a bit such as “Over and Over and Over”, “What’s Done is Done”, and “Humoresque”.

“Ice Station Zebra” is THE most hip-hop thing Jack White has done to date. Even more so than “Lazaretto”. There are still elements of rock, jazz, and funk to it but the groove and cadence of it is a lot more traditionally hip-hop.

“Humoresque” is one of the most fascinating songs on the entire album because it is a song that was actually written by Al Capone when he was locked up in prison.

He transcribed the music into sheet music and wrote lyrics, which Jack bought at an auction not that long ago and then decided to record. It is an interesting insight into the softer side of the mind of the most notorious and infamous gangster in history.

Lyrically White is still sharp and at the top of his game. In fact, with age he only improves at constructing clever phrases and profound ideas.

One of the common lyrical themes in Boarding House Reach is White expressing his distaste for technology and the way it has taken over everyone’s lives in this day and age.

From his point of view (to which he seems to have a rather valid point regardless of whatever tech obsessed younger folk might say), everyone just looks down at their phones and never puts them down to enjoy the beauty and wonder of the world and to revel in what is really going on right there in front of them in the present moment.

Boarding House Reach is not one of those albums that can be gone into expecting to hear something like “Seven Nation Army”, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, “Icky Thump”, etc. This isn’t that kind of album. This is White making music in a whole new way.

For those who have followed Jack White for a long while now, everyone knew this album was coming. Not the specific aspects of the album, but the idea of the album in general.

Once White was doing his own thing outside of a band setting with no restrictions it was only a matter of time before he let the peculiar and avant garde side of his creativity run wild, creating the most art project album he has made to date.

It isn’t an album for everyone, but it’s worth listening to a couple of times. Once for the initial response and then again to get past the initial “Huh?” factor and truly delve into what has been presented.

Boarding House Reach is not Jack White’s most catchy or fun album by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure as hell is his most creative and unique. This will be an album that people will go back to and dissect for years to come.

Rating: 3/5

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Listen: Jack White Boarding House Reach

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