Taken from The Dartmouth (Mar 27, 2018)
Review: Jack White misfires on âBoarding House Reachâ
by Habib Sabet
Boarding House Reach-Cover
Jack White has doubtless had an illustrious musical career, catapulting into fame as the front man of The White Stripes and subsequently founding The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather. White has spent the last few years brandishing his talents as a solo artist, producing the widely acclaimed records âBlunderbussâ in 2012 and âLazarettoâ in 2014, both of which debuted at the top of the Billboard 200. But Whiteâs newest album âBoarding House Reach,â released last Friday, is a convoluted imbroglio that mashes unwanted sounds and time signatures together and provides few redeemable moments.
From the outset, White even misses the mark with the artwork, which attempts to establish the albumâs strange, experimental mode. The album cover features what appears to be a semi-distorted black and white portrait of the artist with a blue ether enveloping his hair in a cloudy mass. The image evokes an androgynous Krusty the Clown rather than whatever artfully phantasmagoric self-portrait he was going for.
The first song, âConnected by Love,â places Whiteâs classic twangy voice over an aggressively overproduced electronic mish-mash of synth and bass. The song choppily switches back and forth between its meandering verse and the chorus â which sounds suspiciously like the last minute of David Bowieâs âRock ânâ Roll Suicideâ â before giving way to a rapid sequence of solos performed on an overblown synth, a guitar that sounds disgustingly like a synth and finally what I think is an electric organ.
Most of the remaining songs on the album share this quality, as if White put less thought into the actual rhythm and melody of his songs and more into the number of buttons he could press and outlandish bells and whistles he could incorporate into it all, constantly forcing together puzzle pieces that clearly donât fit. This is disappointingly transparent. Even his voice throughout the album betrays a sense of disinterest and disorientation, like he knows this kind of stuff isnât for him. The zenith of his experimental absurdity comes during âIce Station Zebra,â in which he overlays upbeat blues piano licks on droning electronic melodies before rapping. Correct, Jack White attempts to rap: âIf Joe Blow says, âYo, you paint like Caravaggioâ / Youâll respond, âNo, thatâs an insult, Joe / I live in a vacuum, I ainât coppinâ no one.ââ I donât know what that means, and I wonât try to figure it out. Rather than sounding playful and invested, White just sounds lost here â as he should. Iâm all for experimentation and genre blending, but this song is almost comically cringeworthy.
The few high points of the album, mainly âOver and Over and Overâ and âCorporation,â pleasantly recall Whiteâs earlier work while nicely incorporating some of the aforementioned bells and whistles. The formerâs fuzzy guitar riff and driving drum rhythm sound straight off of The Raconteursâ Grammy-nominated âConsolers of the Lonelyâ album. Though this is the kind of catchy lead riff that White has made his name from, I canât help but feel as though âOver and Over and Overâ is a simple rehashing of his previous stuff, a formulaic âJack White hitâ thrown in to contrast with the rest of the slog. The songâs name turns out to be aptly ironic. âCorporationâ features several guitar parts harmonizing in funky accord over bongo drums that actually sound good here despite their unwanted and unsuccessful appearance on what seems like every other song on the album. I call this one of the higher points but purely on a relative scale. While the song presents some sort of message concerning capitalism, its ham-handed lyrics (âYeah, Iâm thinking about starting a corporation / Whoâs with me?â comprises much of the song) do little more than provide a puerile and vague attempt at satire.
Jack White is an extraordinary talent who has become somewhat married to a successful yet predictable type of music. For an icon like White, itâs important to explore and discover new styles, and I commend the man for his bravery. On this album, however, he seems to have attempted to do so much exploration that he abandoned any and all creative genius with which he powered his previous works. âBoarding House Reachâ is clunky, unorganized and far too indulgent in what sounds like genuinely random instruments and effects. I hope for Whiteâs sake that the old platitude about mistakes being lessons is true. If White could only channel his previous talent and interest into his next solo project and move past this one, weâd all be better off.