Jack White - Boarding House Reach Album Review
No artist drew a bigger audience to rock in the 2000s than The White Stripes. The simple yet charismatic White Blood Cells and Elephant featured not just virtuosic performances from frontman Jack White, but delivered them in a way that could be loved by all fans of music regardless of prior exposure. Since The White Stripes’ disbandment in 2011, White has struggled to recapture the spirit of those two landmark albums in his eclectic solo career. With Boarding House Reach, White’s spirit is back in spades, but fails to manifest itself with any coherency or consistency.
White’s past two solo works saw him playing it safe, meddling around in the blues rock and singer/songwriter tropes his peers had already made popular in the alternative scene while he was busy leading the way during the garage rock revival. They weren’t bad or poorly made albums by any stretch of the phrase, but played it so safe that White’s passionate performing style seemed to be sealed away in a crypt. If that is indeed the case, White’s passion has returned in the form of an undead monstrosity that you can’t look away from it.
Boarding House Reach is experimental rock in its purest form in that White is throwing some truly unique ideas at a wall and seeing what sticks. The one positive thing about this approach is that outside of “Connected By Love” and “Ice Station Zebra,” most of it does stick to some capacity. The funk fusion from tracks like “Corporation” mounts on the wall nicely, and the progressive rock tinged “Respect Commander” hangs confidently enough. But, outside of a few handful of tracks, none of these experimental ideas ever fully stick to the wall, with many of the half-baked portions dripping down onto the floor. It boils down to the fact that none of these ideas ever pan out into something that feels like a fully formed song. Not because White’s pushing the limits of songwriting or musical composition, but because they’re only nuggets of musical ideas that White isn’t sure how to implement.
It’s as if White had a great album that he worked on over the course of four years, pushing himself to news lengths to see what he could achieve. Then, right before showing it to the public, he spiked it onto the ground to shatter it into a million pieces. Instead of carefully repairing it to its former glory, he picked up the largest of the broken pieces and glued them back together with lyrics that are too bizarre to be taken seriously and some truly insane guitar work. The listener can clearly tell that White is giving you something that you probably would have enjoyed had he given himself more time to iron out the wrinkles he seemed to self impose onto his work.
That being said, the parts where the album does succeed do succeed exceptionally. “Corporation” would serve as an incredible jumping off point for White going into his next album, as White’s masterful guitar skills perfectly lend themself to the Funkadelic inspired funk rock track. “Over and Over and Over,” while not stepping too far away from the rock territory that White has already mastered, incorporates electronics and backing singers in a way that cranks White’s high energy performance skills to a height that fans didn’t know were possible.
While Boarding House Reach isn’t a better album experience than his past two solo efforts, it is infinitely more engaging and adventurous than those two releases. If anything, this album has cemented that White doesn’t need the structure of one of his numerous bands to be able to craft exciting music. With careful tinkering and perhaps some guidance from a producer more familiar with the genres White is starting to dabble in, White very well could turn the groundwork he’s done on Boarding House Reach into the first classic experimental rock record of the next decade.
Chandler Copenheaver is a senior majoring in public relations. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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