words fae rory mcarthur (@rorymeep)
Jack White has always been one to do things his own way. From the strict dress codes of The White Stripes to his meticulously designed vinyl releases, the man clearly has a way he likes to work, and from that has been born some of the finest rock music of the 21st century. His recent solo work doubled down on his love of old-timey production and influences, but now, on his third such album, the most stubborn man in music seems to have finally let his hair down. Almost entirely eschewing the blues-based sounds of previous albums, Boarding House Reach sees White take more risks than ever before, crafting something far looser, baffling, and altogether fascinating.
The album begins conventionally enough with the satisfyingly simple Connected by Love, but pretty soon we’re plunged headfirst into a whirlwind of experiments and oddities, some of which work and some of which…don’t. A lot of this album sounds like multiple half-formed ideas thrown together in an attempt to form some sort of coherent whole, making for frustrating listening at times. Corporation is guilty of this, stitching together a few great, but incongruent, song ideas into somewhat of a messy collage. The same goes for Respect Commander, a strange mash of a fantastically unhinged rock song and a meandering instrumental of skittering drums and digital effects. All this becomes almost respectable after a few listens, owing to the sheer madness of it all, but as far as making for something you actually want to revisit, there is certainly something lacking. At times, the experimentation definitely comes at the detriment to the overall quality of the music. This feeling is only made stronger by the multiple spoken word tracks littered throughout the runtime. Although perhaps intriguing on a first listen, they just come across as superfluous after a while, and eventually induce eye-rolls whenever they chime in to break up the momentum.
Thankfully, it’s hard for an artist as good as White to go a whole album without producing at least a few slices of gold. Get in the Mind Shaft is perhaps the biggest departure from his established norm on the whole album, and this time the risk pays off. A funky squelch full of filtered vocals and shiny effects, you’d never in a million years think that it was written by the same guy who penned Seven Nation Army, but it somehow remains a frighteningly catchy track that stands out as a diamond in the rough. Further satisfying moments are provided by the stripped down closing one-two of What’s Done Is Done and Humoresque, but the true highlight of the album comes at it’s centre, with the straight up White Stripes rock of Over and Over and Over. Apparently written years ago during his time with his old band, the song is propelled forward by one of the best riffs White has released in years, and epitomises everything we love about this artist. The energy, the intensity, it’s all there, but alas, it is a bit of a flash in the pan; no other track on the record even gets close to matching it’s quality.
Ultimately then, this one is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s got to be admired just how far White has gone to shake up his style, but as with any grand transitional period there are more than a few slip-ups. In fact, it seems likely that more than a few people will dismiss this totally as self-indulgent nonsense and that he’s ‘lost his edge’ or something similar. This would be an exaggeration, the White Stripe we all know remains at the core of these tracks, but there is a certain degree of alienation that will be felt by long time fans. However, to make an album with this clear a disregard for it’s commercial success remains a ballsy move despite the stature of the musician, and for that reason it’s difficult to feel too aggrieved at the lack of too many ‘proper’ Jack White moments. Perhaps this is the record he needed to make to usher in a new era of creative genius, or perhaps he really is disappearing up his own arse; time will tell, but people will always be curious to hear what one of the most unique voices in music has to say next.
The rapping on Ice Station Zebra does suck though.