Jack White – Boarding House Reach (Review)

The man, the myth and the legend is back with a killer third studio album since The White Stripes departed and in my absolute opinion, it’s his best release since, with Lazaretto being a close second. In Boarding House Reach, we get to see Jack White in a completely different light. He’s comfortable making this music and his has found a lot of new influences to inspire the writing of this album. It’s not received the best of reviews as it’s his most eccentric work yet, but everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I’m looking forward to sitting down and reviewing this album track by track. It’s definitely a rollercoaster ride that I don’t want to get off.

“Connected By Love” was the first single to be released and I’ll be honest, the first time I heard, I really struggled with it. As each time I listen to it, it has grown and grown on me. The song starts off with a buzzing noise similar to the beginning of Black Mirror. The lyrics aren’t as strong as I wish, but they fit so well in this love story. Jack always has his own way with words. The song was actually going to be called “Infected by Love,” but Jack changed it as he didn’t want his listeners to think he had a sexually transmitted disease… smart move, Jack. The lyrics seem to be about Jack explaining to his love that he struggles with anxiety and depression, and wishes they would give reassurance to help the pain go away. I can completely relate to this song in a way like no other, purely because anxiety is hard to talk about, but singing about it can definitely make it easier. The gospel backing vocals are quite off-putting, but they’re the most prominent part of the song, making them a main hook line. I really do love how Jack can completely rock with a piano in his set up. He really has evolved blues music and brought it back into the limelight. 

I can only imagine that the next song was just put on the album as a last resort. “Why Walk a Dog?” isn’t bad, but it’s not brilliant either. The proves to be about three different animals and how they relate to humanity. Jack sings “What is so funny, about beasts above understanding?” which is actually a play on the Elvis Costello song “What’s so funny ’bout peace, love, and understand.” The most interesting part of this song is that there’s no exact chorus, there’s only the hook line. Jack White has always been one of those musicians who records his music the “old-fashioned” way to get the rawness of his material out to the world, but in reality, this album has nothing old-fashioned about it. It’s new and refreshing. It seems that Jack has finally released that no matter what way he records his music, it will still be HIM at the end of the day. I must say, the production on this album is absolutely wonderful.

“Corporation” is a top blues, garage rock anthem that plummets through with upbeat drums. The guitars and keyboard are heavy and layer lovely together. It’s the longest track on the whole album, making Corporation a prominent song on the album. It was released as a promotional single in January and from the get go of this single’s release – it was a banger. I really like how the instruments harmonise together in the main riff as the song gradually builds, it gives it a whole different shade of colour. The bass line is my favourite thing of the whole song because it creates this meaty, chromatic pulse. When the backing vocals coming in with “HUH,” it’s a bit embarrassing to listen too but pretty funny. The song is loose but slightly arranged to make it sound like a clever jam. It’s tight and the band are all energetic together. “I’m thinking about taking it all the way to the top” completely rolls off Jack’s tongue in a funky, rap like manner. A point to be made though is the screaming makes the song so much more weirder than it actually is. It makes me question, is it actually needed? With the dirty blues side to the track, it gives a moody aggressive vibe to it just like Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” does.

C. W. Stoneking speaks this next song in such a delicate manner, making Abulia and Akrasia the first complete bizarre song on the record. Abulia is considering to be about the lack of motivation, and Akrasia is believed to be about lack of self-control, so what better way than to preach about it in a spoken word poem. Jack wrote this poem purely for Stoneking only as he found his speaking voice amazing to listen too. His goal was to write a complicated poem about wanting a cup of tea, and he sure did accomplish that. It’s weirdly wonderful and completely experimental. Definitely something that Frank Zappa and even Jeff Buckley would have loved. It would have been right down their street.

Misophonia is a disorder in which negative thoughts/emotions/reactions are triggered by certain sound. A “Hypermisophoniac” is mainly a play on words, it’s the same as a misophonia, but hyper is added to the front of it to exaggerate it a bit more. The content of this song is so scary, as it really could trigger off someone with misophonia and make them physically, or maybe it could even cure them, who knows? Either Jack White is an evil genius or he’s just a genius. The song itself is arranged perfectly to make it all fit well together. It’s the first track to feature Carla Azar (starred in the film Frank) on acoustic drums, who is a considerably underrated drummer. As a whole, it’s a cool song that can torment people and really scare them, but why be afraid of fear when you can punch it in the face like this song does. I really like how the vocals are pitch shifted sometimes to make the song even more on the edge to listen too.  “Ain’t no running, when you’re robbing a bank” is another main part of the song making it seem that there’s nowhere to hide if you’ve got misophonia. 

Entered with what I originally thought was bass, but really it’s guitar and bass together, “Ice Station Zebra” is one to definitely not skip. Jack has played this live on the St Vincent signature guitar he uses and from the videos I’ve watched, it completely rocks. The song is inspired by the 1963 war book with the same name. The song is brilliant, but in a bizarre way. It’s filled with experimental, funk licks that makes you never want to stop listening to the track. Jack’s vocals are flavoured in hip hop rhymes which reminds me a bit of Kendrick Lamar’s style and how he uses his vocals to create another rhythmical part of the song. I’ve heard a lot of people mention how Jack has gone down the more Beck root and this track is the only song that I can personally hear it in. Beck’s song “The New Pollution” reminds me slightly of this because Beck just decided to go down a completely different avenue by release music that he enjoyed to play more. Jack is just another example of a musician enjoying his new style. He’s found himself and is completely doing what he loves to do, right here, right now.

He’s known for his blues style songs and screaming guitar parts, and of course that’s still in this album, but he’s completely modernised it to create a new world of “I do what the f*** I want, if you like it? Great. If you don’t, I don’t care” attitude. Iconic part of the song is the lyric “add your own piece, but the puzzle’s is gods.” A genius lyric purely because if god is real, then surely fate is too, and if fate is real, then our life is already planned. Making the puzzles a metaphor that it’s god’s, and it’s even his way or the highway. One of my own personal favourites off the album so far.

The next track, it feels like we’re revisiting Lazaretto. Throughout “Over and Over and Over,” Jack references a king from Greek mythology who punishes Jack for the bad things he’s done, and as his punishment he has to roll a rock up a hill forever. This can go a whole lot deeper than that though. I feel that Jack’s “rock” is actually anxiety. He has to hold all his anxiety together on his shoulders and has to live like this over and over and over. It’s memorable and a strong highlight to the album. I adore Jack’s guitar tone because it’s just fuzzy and overdriven, not distorted. Some artists get stuck in the distorted phase forever and you can never really hear what they’re actually playing. It has his blues elements as does a lot of the other songs, but you can hear his new-found love of electronica strong in this song. In between the riffs, Jack leads us into really quirky instrumental breaks with new sections of guitar riffs bleeding through to make the song build more and more. I feel this is what Thundercat would sound like if he played electric guitar and rocked a bit more. The backing gospel vocals are back with weird pitches that don’t harmonically make sense sometimes, but the do work well and can be used as the “anxious thoughts/voice” in people’s heads.

“Everything You’ve Ever Learned” is about Jack imitating humans that over think. He’s also saying that really, he already knows everything that he needs to know. I didn’t realise when I first heard this that it’s actually Jack himself saying “Hello, Welcome to Everything You’ve Ever Learned,” I genuinely thought it was someone else, but now realising that it’s Jack, it makes the track even more bizarre. Jack goes back to his more normal self by shouting and pleading “Do you want everything? Then you can have everything” preaching it like Martin Luther King would. He questions himself, but what I love about it, he’s questioning the audience too, then shortly after questioning, he answers. “Do you wanna start a fire? Well you can watch it burn” leads into a section that only reminds me of Jim Morrison in The Doors when he goes mental in “The End.” The End is about death and Everything You’ve Ever Learned is more about over thinking before the actual end of things. For such a short song, it brings out such a big message in the short amount of time.

Most of the albums best moments are started with powerful drums, just like “Respect Commander.” It starts with a jam before Jack implies “all right, let’s go back to our song” which means that maybe while they were recording, they got sidetracked and ended up having another part for the beginning of the song. It’s such a strange thing to have at the start of a song, because the beginning is always so important as it has to capture the person there and then, it they like it, they’ll stay with it. The song is primarily split into two sections that are as distinctive as each other with the first section being fast, energetic and 80’s funk influenced. The backing vocals that go “woop” sound like it’s going to go into “Sound of Da Police” by KRS-One. IT really does have power of becoming a big funk song, until it’s all took down to just a sleazy blues bass and guitar part. “She commands my respect” shows that whoever this woman is, Jack is besotted and doesn’t care what she does. Just past the 3 minutes mark, we lead into an upbeat blues battle of guitar screams, the old Jack White is back just for a short amount of time. Before we know it, Respect Commander goes back to the beginning of the drum and guitar led riff. We start just as we end..

“Ezmerelda Steals the Show” starts with pretty much a similar chord being plucked as the one in R.E.M’s “Everybody Hurts.” The story behind the song was Jack had a vision that he was at a children’s school watching a kind of talent show and he thought “imagine if a little girl came up on the stage and read a complete nuts poem and stole the show?” and so with that, he wrote a song about it. I really like how this track has two Jack White’s reading out the spoken word poem, one in a high pitch, and the other in a lower pitch register. A very wacky track ending with “You people are totally absurd,” but it fits such a well written album.

Opening up with another spoken word poem with layers of delay effects on the vocals, accompanied by orchestral synths and a melodic bass line sitting comfortably in the background, “Get in the Mind Shaft” is the weirdest track on the album, in my opinion. It’s like a robot’s adventure through Jack White’s brain. I can sense Radiohead vibes coming from this, but the “Can you hear me now?” just completely coming out of nowhere reminds me of when David Gilmour and Roger Waters used the talk bow to imitate farm animals on their Animals album. The orchestral keys still stay throughout the song with little melodic progressions happening here and there. This song is just totally, absurd! Get it?… I’m not funny.

“What’s Done is Done?” has the same country elements as Temporary Ground has on Lazaretto but Jack’s just added his new-found love of electronica to this song to create a fresh sound. The weird humming in the back makes the song feel old and nostalgic. It’s nice to hear such a soft song after listening to Get in the Mind Shaft, as that was all in your face, whereas this is nice to just back to simplicity with Esther Rose accompanying Jack on this soft song. “What’s done is done, I just can’t fight it no more, so I’m walking downtown to the store, and I’m buying a gun” just makes me think that Jack is fed up of being labelled as a country/blues artists and he’s simply saying “I don’t want to labelled, so I’m going to buy a gun to show that I’m changed.” The gun could illustrate that Jack has gone to the darker side of his music.

Entered with a lovely jazz chord progression, “Humoresque” is the last song on this brilliant album. It was written by Al Capone, a famous gangster from the 1930’s. Jack anonymously bidded on the musical piece and made the song his own. The piano follows the vocal line which makes it sound like a work song or even a children’s nursery rhyme. Humoresque actually means a short, lively piece of music. Whereas, yes, this is a short piece, but it’s not lively in the slightest. Considering that, I’m glad, because it’s an absolutely stunning song to end such a complicated album.

Overwhelming album that’s all in your face with soft moments that captivate. It’s completely my favourite album of 2018 so far. Be very hard to follow this on your next one, Mr White, but I have all faith in you.

Favourite Tracks: Corporation, Abulia and Akrasia, Hypermisophoniac, Ice Station Zebra, Over and Over and Over, Everything You’ve Ever Learned, Respect Commander, Get in the Mind Shaft, Humoresque

Score: 9/10

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