Jack White

Boarding House Reach

Third Man/Columbia

Mar 22, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


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Jack White was once the antithesis to rock 'n' roll excess. With The White Stripes, he produced sharp, minimalist rock songs that laughed in the face of the genre's extravagances. Even on his more lavish solo albums, White's writing was still taut and efficient. Which makes this new album an extraordinary departure, as it is a record that seems to ignore traditional songcraft completely.

White says that this new album is "a bizarre one" and for once that claim is not just pre-release hype. Boarding House Reach is unlike anything in his discography. It is a strange, freewheeling record that aggressively pulls ideas from jazz, hip-hop, and blues rock, often with the subtlety of whiplash. As White has noted himself, ideas that could be turned into entire songs are used and discarded in a few bars.

But is it any good? Well, not really. Because despite all the bluster, there's not a lot actually happening on this album. Its songs are collages of ideas that sound great in 10-second chunks but refuse to settle, shifting from fiery riffs to spoken word passages to jazz piano detours. At first, this restlessness has a mad-scientist charm to it but it quickly becomes tiresome.

White would have us believe that he has reinvented rock music but the album's erratic style only distracts from its lack of coherent songs. "Connected By Love" sounds like an outro to a good song but its dramatic arrangement feels unearned and White's lyrics lack insight or wit. "Corporation" squanders the album's best groove by stretching it over five minutes without a notable hook to carry it. Elsewhere, "Abulia and Akrasia" and "Everything You've Ever Learned" are directionless interludes that achieve nothing beyond abstract, pointless strangeness.

It is no surprise then that the album's best track is both its most straightforward and its oldest. "Over and Over and Over" is a pummelling rock songoriginally written for The White Stripes in 2005that shows how good White can be when he restricts himself. On Boarding House Reach, Jack White has given himself free reign to do whatever he wants. But like a child let loose in a candy store, he has eaten way more than his fill and vomited all over the floor. (www.jackwhiteiii.com)           

Author rating: 4.5/10

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