April 22, 2018

Jack White - Boarding House Reach Review

For someone as prolific and steeped in as rich a musical history as is Jack White, expectations were sky high for the follow-up to his much acclaimed sophomore solo outing, Lazaretto. Already bending the rules in genres such as garage rock, blues rock, and country, there seemed to be a bar set almost too high by White after proving he could have a solo career that is just as, if not more, successful than his time spent fronting The White Stripes. That's why it came as such a surprise when 4 years later, White came out of the studio with an album that surely tops Lazaretto with even more experimentation and a vision that is inclusive to all genres of music: Boarding House Reach. To classify this album is to describe it as a garage-blues-country-funk-electronic-jazz hybrid with sprinklings of hip-hop and stream-of-conscience absurdity, something which I never expected to see combined all in one record by Jack White. There was however, a hint dropped early before BHR's announcement that signaled White's departure from traditional blues and garage rock anthems toward a more experimental and jam rock approach in the release of his non-album single "Battle Cry", in 2017. This single builds into White's traditional heavy, fuzzed-out guitar riffs from the tribal chanting and clapping, and it sounds like it's a next step in evolution from his instrumental wild card, "High Ball Stepper", in Lazaretto. When looking at "Battle Cry" as a bridge for listeners to take to Boarding House Reach, this new record should feel like just the right follow-up from someone who has never stopped growing musically.

The album's warm opener, "Connected by Love", is one of the more familiar anthems which White is known for, and allows listeners to strap in while they listen to White's captivating words. The gospel-infused chorus and message makes this one of the strongest openers on any of White's albums and infuses a sense of universality and human condition which can speak to anyone in any walk of life. "Why Walk A Dog" follows with a slow hip-hop-like beat and dark blues angst, and one of the many fascinating guitar lines in the album. What's amazing about White is his ability to always keep things interesting with his guitar, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of musical ideas and solos that are displayed in this album. "Corporation" is the first all out funk number from White, with serious festival and jazz vibes, and the first chance the listener gets to hear White's assembled band of sessions musicians feeling their own groove on this track. White calls out that he feels like starting a corporation and repeatedly asks the listeners "Who's with me" between insane screams, high-pitched squeals, and guitar riffs, and it's this high energy in "Corporation" which makes his invitation all the more compelling to want to tune into his musical movement and sync your body to grooviness of it all. Other tracks, like "Ice Station Zebra" and "Respect Commander" show White's desire for funky, bluesy experimentation, while "Over and Over and Over" gives listeners another accessible yet incredible hard rock anthem with White's signature garage rock flair. There are several spoken word compositions nestled in between the main body of tracks which are somewhat hit-and-miss, but they have an air of tongue-in-cheekiness that reveals a rare side of White. For some, this might be too drastic of a tonal shift, but for others it can be refreshing to hear a humorous, not-to-be-taken-seriously aside on the album, but ultimately it comes down to personal taste. Personally, I think that it can be a strength to reveal that one doesn't take themselves too seriously during the creative process, as if channeling Frank Zappa in terms of experimentation and absurdity. "Humoresque", the albums closer, sounds like a a songwriting session with Paul McCartney as it takes Boarding House Reach in for a soft landing.

Boarding House Reach is nearly perfect, with exception for the spoken word pieces, which are up to interpretation for each listener. The genre bending, in addition to the thought provoking artwork featuring Jack White's face, gender-ambiguous in a cloud of blue, a repeated color throughout each of his solo albums and music videos, makes for an accurate reflection of current times, as everything becomes more obscured with gender rules and everything, even in music, is borrowing and mixing and coexisting as a futurist blend of culture. Boarding House Reach will remain a compelling listen for many years to come, and come to be known as a defining album and one of the strongest to date of Jack White's solo career.

Boarding House Reach - 8.5/10