Let me start this review this way…I love Jack White. I love his virtuosity on guitar. I love that he takes risks. I love that he loves music. And I love that he doesn’t entirely seem to care what other people think about what he’s creating.
I love that last part right now because his latest solo project, Boarding House Reach…is a bit of a reach. And it’s starting to make me wonder if Jack’s, you know, okay, man.
This seems to be a bit of a trend for him since going solo, and breaking off from The White Stripes…The Dead Weather…The Raconteurs…am I missing any? His first solo album, Blunderbuss, was a tour de force if you ask me. Solid beginning to end, with just a couple mediocre tracks mixed in where White gets a little…weird. His next act, Lazaretto, was hot and cold. But the hot tracks (especially the title track) were so good I hardly cared some of the others fell flat.
Boarding House Reach, however…
1. Connected by Love (75 points)
White’s album starts with his first single. He’s crafty like that. I don’t dislike the synth bass and drum machine as much as I normally would. It sounds a lot better when the rest of the band (with piano, hammond organ, real drums, etc) come in. I kinda dig the lyrics as well. They have a good emotion to them.
The track suffers from a lack of White’s signature blazing Airline guitar until about the 3-minute mark, and even then it’s only kinda there. The background singers don’t do much for me. All that said, this is one of the more successful tracks on this album.
2. Why Walk a Dog? (50 points)
Welcome to track two, where it’s all synth, all the time! And not in a pleasant, quirky, Rush-goes-synth kind of way. This dark, brooding track only breaks from the heavy synth for the occasional hyper-distorted, slow-moving solo from White. I guess I don’t get this one, man.
3. Corporation (85 points)
This track works the hardest to win me over. That 70s-funk groove that carries from the opening bassline, to the cheesy (in a good way) distorted organ, to the congas rappa-ta-tapping in the back, this one bobs my head. About the 2-minute mark, White plugs in his Res-O-Glass and grabs a pick, and turns the song up to eleven. The lyrics are complete nonsense, and that’s just fine.
I’m thinkin’ about startin’ a corporation!
Who’s with me?
Most of the vocals are just…sounds. And when there are real words, it’s just White having a spazz attack…and it’s fun! If only the rest of the album sounded like this.
4. Abulia and Akrasia (45 points)
A-who-lia? This is like an intermission track. With C.W. Stoneking reciting a poem over a track that would sound at home in a Westworld episode, it just misses the mark. And here’s why: Whoever recorded and produced Stoneking’s voice screwed up. I don’t know who Stoneking is, and I don’t know what his voice sounds like outside this track, but his voice has no bottom end on it. Neither does the music. There’s not much here that provides balance in a bass clef kind of way. At least it’s short.
5. Hypermisophoniac (70 points)
So, this one starts out with some 80s-style electronica on top of a shaking Krylon can. It then mixes in a jazz piano, a rapping hi-hat, and Jack White’s voice through a real aggressive flanger. Every now and then White’s guitar joins the cacophony successfully.
Here’s the thing with this one: As I’m giving it a second listen-through while writing this, I’m liking it more than the first time. It’s a little goofy, and I don’t exactly mind goofy. And as I give it more time, my ears start to find, and appreciate, the groove of this song more. I think with a few more play-throughs, I may well even dig it.
6. Ice Station Zebra (65 points)
In the first 45 seconds of Ice Station Zebra, White crosses styles from generic rap-rock, to Bel Biv DeVoe, to Jack-White-mashes-on-a-piano, amateur Metallica, to piano-boogie-electronica-fusion, and back. And then Jack White starts rapping. White, normally an impeccable producer, got either sloppy or intentionally weird with his vocal processing, and he’s worse off for it. After White’s first verse we then switch styles again to Jamiroquai. Around the two-minute mark, White shifts gears and now we’re in more of a modern funk sound and…it works! Honestly, if you skip the first half of the song, it’s a pretty good groove. But I didn’t, so here we are.
7. Over and Over and OverBI (85 points)
I want to love this song. This has all the hallmarks of classic Jack White: overprocessed-guitar rocking a great riff, White’s idiosyncratic vocal pacing, lyrics that only make sense if you’re in a manic state, goofy bridge, third act that adds in more depth to the sound (and sounds great), screwball visuals in the video…it’s great!
…Except for those damned backing singers. They ruin it for me. They’re (presumably intentionally) off-key the whole time. Gah!
8. Everything You’ve Ever Learned (75 points)
The first time I listened to this album, I skipped this track. The opening was that annoying. But I made myself listen to this for the review, and I’m glad I did. Thirty seconds of a smarmy, phased voice saying “Hello! Welcome to everything you’ve ever learned! Brought to you by…” over and over eventually leads into an intermission-sized track that reminds me of the meaty bits of Pink Floyd’s One of These Days. Give it a chance.
9. Respect Commander (80 points)
I have a feeling that if White sat in on a session with the band Cake, the end result would sound a lot like Respect Commander. The majorly-overdriven guitar over an assertive, jazzy bass riff, and a rhythmic drum line are the hallmarks of a Cake track. The bizzarroland bits, the blaring blues solo, and the unnecessary electronica are modern Jack White. I dig this one.
10. Ezmerelda Steals the Show (30 points)
Unless you’re into badly-recorded, spoken-word poetry over a three-note pacing guitar, just pass on this one.
11. Get in the Mind Shaft (70 points)
So this one starts off spoken-word again, but then moves into this voice-boxed, Parliament-sounding, slow-paced, electronic funk. This is kind of what I imagine the sound of falling asleep stoned would be like. It grows on you, though.
12. What’s Done is Done (65 points)
And now we shift gears entirely into a Johnny Cash/June Carter-style duet. The only real difference from a real Cash/Carter piece is the hammond organ, and the oddball synth bridge. So if Get in the Mind Shaft is what it sounds like to fall asleep stoned, What’s Done is Done kinda harshes your mellow…all while being mellow itself.
13. Humoresque (80 points)
Humoresque almost has a feeling of an old American Standard. A piano melody that follows the lead of the vocals. Gentle tapping on the hi-hat, with an occasional flourish on the drums (especially toward the end). Pretty words from White, sung almost-not-terribly (let’s face it…White’s not the world’s greatest vocalist). All put together, this is a simply beautiful song…and a good way to send this collection of music out.
Overall Score: (67 points)
I love Jack White. I really do. And maybe that’s why I’m so rough on him with this album. I know he can produce an album sharper than this. I know he can write music more engaging than this. I know he can be more consistent than this.
I don’t begrudge a music artist trying to branch out and try new things (it’s better than falling into an AC/DC rut where you start running out of ways to say “LET’S ROCK AND PARTY!”). But at the end of the day, you have to listen back through that track, and say to yourself, “I dig this…that’s a good one.”
There are several good tracks on Boarding House Reach. But there are enough cruddy ones as well that just mar the whole thing.
Did you find this review worth something?
Well, if you found it to be nice enough to make you want to pick yourself up a copy of Boarding House Reach, maybe get your copy from one of the links below? That way, they’ll toss me a few nickels and I can get myself something from the vending machine.
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