Jack White, “Boarding House Reach”

Jack White
Boarding House Reach
THIRD MAN
8/10

Even post–White Stripes, the unwavering awesomeness of Jack White has never really been in question, as evidenced by a pair of fiery solo albums and a trio of Dead Weather records that could strip the paint off a vintage ’77 Coupe DeVille.

But one thing he’s definitely not is Radiohead. It was always a safe bet that White wouldn’t suddenly go off and make a post-ambient neo-krautrock record.

Perhaps understanding the need to forewarn his adoring public, White issued a statement last November referring to his new solo album as bizarre. That record, Boarding House Reach (not such a bizarre title), has finally arrived. And while the neo-gospel opener “Connected by Love” doesn’t seem all too shocking, it does find him stretching his voice, curiously dipping in and out of some genuinely convincing Freddie Mercury–style vocal histrionics.

By the time third track “Corporation” is in full flower, a weird ’70s prog-funk tune starts layering on the bongos, with banshee screaming and what sound like aural transmissions from far off galaxies. For familiarity, it also boasts some of the wickedest ZoSo riffs ever to elude Led Zep’s copyright lawyers.

“Hypermisophoniac” then introduces (uh oh) krautrock synths to boogie piano, and it turns out that ain’t half-crazy (later, the piano goes baroque—really, not kidding). He fervently reminds us, “Ain’t nowhere to run / When you’re robbing a bank,” which is probably his version of a commentary on the contemporary surveillance culture.

So this record, while not entirely “bizarre,” is either adventurously or confusedly all over the place (most likely the former). But wouldn’t you know—White actually sounds like he’s having a blast not having to be his usual self. The spooky acid-rock of “Everything You’ve Ever Learned” might even freak out Hawkwind, while the languid, acoustic “Ezmerelda Steals the Show” sounds like it wishes it were a Lewis Carroll poem, fittingly closing with the line, “You people are totally absurd.”

To be sure, White does rock out, too, as on “Over and Over and Over”—but even that kind of sounds like Queen’s preposterously excellent “Ogre Battle.”

Let’s cut Jack some slack: This is the sort of record everyone should make twenty years into their career. If you look up “bizarre” on Thesaurus.com, one of the synonyms that comes up is “bugged out.” Yeah—that. 

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