Jack White produces a mixed bag with Boarding House Reach

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.

rating 6


By Harry Sullivan (@radiohedge)

Jack White III (born John Anthony Gillis), Grammy awarded vocalist/guitarist in the White Stripes and The Raconteurs, drummer in The Dead Weather and king of the riff, released his debut solo album five years ago to this very day. Henceforth cometh the assessment of its musical impact on the industry in its half-decade life. This is instinctively a difficult release to review, as you can either judge it since it’s his first album as a solo artist or compare it to his twenty-five previous years as a musician. Anyhow, Jack’s songwriting ability we all know and love is evident throughout the LP, shown through his many influences in various genres from garage to gospel.

The opener, Missing Pieces, has a certain warmth to the vocals that doesn’t appear in his work with ex-wife Meg White and just has a cleaner production element than most of their work in general. That is not to say that the White Stripes weren’t influential, arguably popularising the riff-heavy power duo model that spawned successes such as The Black Keys and even Royal Bloodif anything it’s a compliment to White that he was able to do his own thing rather than trample on his band’s reputation.

The following track, Sixteen Saltines has Jack’s classic signature not-so-complex yet BELTING riffs filling your ears, and one of the biggest surprises of the album is the great Freedom At 21, which, along of one the best riffs to come out of some of Jack White’s work, has contained within it a drum beat so complex it is rumoured to be two separate drum tracks layered over one another. The title track Blunderbuss is a significant break in energy in the album – it’s almost a waltz – illustrating some variety to Jack’s sound that he didn’t find with Meg, especially instrumentally, with a healthy portion of strings running through the track.

Lyrically, however, the album is weak at points, with very little depth (literally stating the obvious on Hypocritical KissI know every single thing that I said was true) and it seems Jack is too dependent on the riffs themselves to carry the album forward. The cleaner production and more varied instrumentation do little to hide the fact that there has been very little growth in Jack’s musical repertoire since his final release with the White Stripes five years previously.

Image result for jack white 2012

Compared to his next album Lazaretto (released 2014), Jack’s work on this album is a mere building block towards it, with an album more coherent, and, not that it matters but, a better-looking album cover – it takes you to your third listen of Blunderbuss to realise that there’s a vulture with its wing over his shoulder, and the background is so blurry and monotone that it almost makes you not want to listen to the LP. TL;DR: his second solo attempt is more distinct in cover art and in sound. With this LP Jack White bares a lot of emotion that we haven’t seen before, but the album’s namesake, a large bored 17th century shotgun, is unfortunately not matched by the surprisingly small impact of this album – it was written to be played live, and does not do very much as a recording.







by Rory McArthur@RoryMeep

Just when you thought he’d disappeared off the face of the planet, Jack White blasts his way back onto the scene with a surprise new single. Following his 2014 triumph, Lazaretto, the blues punk master has been keeping it fairly low-key. Aside from an acoustic compilation record, White’s attention has largely been away from his own material, focusing on his ‘Third Man Records’ label and on production, notably gaining a credit on the latest Beyonce record. All this looks set to change from now on, however, with his latest scorching slice of guitar heft finally landing in our laps. Battle Cry soundtracks a new promo video for baseball bat manufacturer Warstic, which White has recently invested in, in which he portrays a mysterious character known as ‘The Raven’. The tracks blistering intensity provides a perfect backdrop for the dramatic ad, but how does it fare on its own?

Perhaps disappointingly for some, the track is almost entirely instrumental, save for the occasional chant of “Hey! during the first minute or so. After this, the song gives way to a crushingly simplistic riff, making it abundantly clear that White has lost none of his swaggering musicianship in his time away from the spotlight. This is punctuated with an octave shifted squall of a guitar solo, the kind of instrumentation that was so brilliantly utilised on White’s previous two solo outings. White deploys these familiar tools in his arsenal to produce 3 minutes positively brimming with intensity, in the mould of so many classic moments from throughout his career.

Despite the undeniable quality of the track, it does play more like a taster of what’s to come than the peak of any forthcoming offerings. If there is a new album to follow, you would expect Battle Cry to be vastly improved upon with relative ease. When compared with High Ball Stepper, the incendiary first single from Lazaretto, this track falls far short of what this artist is clearly capable of when dealing with instrumentals. The riff becomes tiresome after multiple listens, failing to echo the quality of the city-levelling heaviness White has become known for ever since his days fronting The White Stripes. Instead, the track partially satisfies yet leaves you wanting, and demanding, more, which, when considering the context of its release, might just be its intention.

Although Battle Cry comes nowhere near equaling the finest output of this fantastic artist, it does serve as a reminder. A reminder that Jack White is still a force to be reckoned with, an artist who could easily wipe the floor with most of his contemporaries, while running a successful record label, working with the world’s biggest pop stars and funding baseball bat manufacturers with his other 6 hands. Despite not being a perfect return, expect big things from the former White Stripe sooner rather than later.