As far as contemporary giants within rock and roll, there are few. Among them, Foo Fighters, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Jack White can be included on this list, the latter of which, released his third solo album, Boarding House Reach, this week. After a string of legendary works that defined the last three decades though, the LP falls short. Inconsistencies are plentiful, and the majority of the record plays out like someone changing the channel on a television set as fast as they can. While Boarding House Reach is a prime example of White’s versatility, it may be too much of that.
To properly examine the songwriter’s latest work, it’d probably be best to look at White’s work up to this point; how did he garner his status as a musician? In the early days with the White Stripes, the attraction towards Jack and Meg was their simplicity; three colors, three instruments (guitar, drums, vocals), and three chord songs. What held the ‘Stripes audience captive was that over a simple sound, White was able to convey complex stories and ideas through his lyrics. Things can’t always be like this however, artists need to evolve and keep things fresh. This led White to his next band, The Raconteurs, who took the same format from the White Stripes and tweaked it a little bit; rounded out the sound so-to-say. With a big sound, and great lyrics, it was time for Jack’s experimental stage that manifested itself in The Dead Weather. Over three albums, the four piece allowed him to move behind the drums (his first instrument) and challenge listeners’ concept of what a rhythm section could be.
So with his three strengths; lyricism, big sound, and sometimes challenging arrangements, White inevitably became a solo artist. On his first two releases, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto, this career choice proved itself to be the best. Both albums have become great standalone works as well as perfect additions to an impressive catalogue. So why does Boarding House Reach stand out like a sore thumb?
It’s safe to say that it’s not a fully BAD album but as stated above, it falls short. On songs like Why Walk a Dog? and Everything You’ve Ever Learned, Jack White the lyricist isn’t even present. The tracks aren’t instrumentals, but they may as well be. it would seem that after writing the big album single and first track, Connected By Love, White had no energy left to write words to any more songs. There are a couple good verses here and there. On Over and Over and Over when he sings “I think, therefore I die, anxiety and I, rolling down a mountain” as a play on Descartes famous saying. other than these sporadic moments, words clearly aren’t the focal point on Boarding House Reach.
The side of Jack white most present on Boarding House Reach would definitely be the rhythmically challenging one. But the songs on the album play out so oddly that it doesn’t sound as much like a rhythm section as samples of one. In that past, White has incorporated some great musicians into his work so while his music was a solo effort, it still sounded like a fully experienced band. On the new album, the only other musician present is his Pro Tools (or whatever other recording medium he uses). Along with this idea, most of the songs are fragmented rather than full. There are great sections in some songs but they don’t last long enough to justify the entire LP’s ‘greatness’.
It’s good to experiment, at Hell of a Thing we’ve spoke in favor of that for the last year or so, but sometimes experiments blow up in our faces. It would be cruel to say that Jack White’s Boarding House Reach is a bad album after he’s given his fan base so much to love him for; solid music, Third Man Records, and the blueprint for contemporary rock and roll. This is why I believe the album falls short. Am I mensch for saying so?
Click here to listen to Connected By Love
– By Mike Metcalf