Review Summary: A bold move with poor execution.
Occasionally there are times when I’ll sit and listen to a record and just after finishing it, lean back in my uncomfortable dining table chair and muse over the whole thing. Not because the music had a positive or negative effect on me, on the contrary, I’ll go into this meditative state to try and mull over what the artist’s intentions were when making the album. What was the goal？ Why did they release the album in its finished state？ Sometimes it takes this moment of thought and reflection to process what you’ve just heard and hope you can decide whether it’s a masterstroke of sonic genius or a jangled, pretentious disaster by the time you’re done thinking about it.
In the case of Jack White, he’s always been a little eccentric – a talented one no less – but his music boarders on these two factors frequently for me. Is he a 21st century off-centre Zappa or a creatively bankrupt hack using a barrage of electronic noodling and eclectic stylings to disorientate your conclusion？ Honestly, the jury is still out on that one. But the problem with Boarding House Reach
when compared to the rest of his solo work is that it throws a numbing amount of ideas at you from the moment it starts and doesn’t give an inch until it stops. It’s an arty-farty assault on all fronts and even with some genuinely excellent elements wielded at the core of the album, it’s still a buffet of avant-garde song-writing and questionably nonsensical compositional and lyrical ideas. Conventional is a word to be seldom used here. “Connected By Love” is an excellent starting point for this: opening the track with an ominous mood setter of phaser electronics that sway across the spectrum of the song and synth horns that bellow out to create a nice 70’s aesthetic, but the song is quickly thwarted by a melodramatic performance from Jack that has him whining “we’re connected by love!"
, with the elevation of grandness from the support of the gospel choir behind him. It’s catchy, but there’s a bleak dourness looming over it all that makes it too dark to be taken light-heartedly and yet, its goofiness ultimately sours the track to a point where it can’t be taken all that seriously either.
This is the biggest crutch for Boarding House Reach
in my eyes; there’s so much going on in any one song and it’s hard to determine a clear goal for anything here. “Corporation” is probably the strongest number here, as it opens up with an “Immigrant Song”, Led Zeppelin-esque drum beat that instantly has you moving with the groove, partnered with further delight as a Frank Zappa sounding guitar riff begins to drive the piece along. The progression of the track is met with furious bongo patters and tremolo picking guitar, making the track increasingly unhinged and erratic while Jack does a fine job in upping this factor with his screaming and shouting of "I’m thinking of starting a corporation"
. It’s a rare moment here where all the 70’s rock homage works harmoniously. Unfortunately, moments like this are few and far between and you’ll be hearing more from a song like “Hypermisophoniac” than anything else; a track that contains minimal structure and bat*** vocal work that’ll leave you completely unfulfilled and unable to shake the feeling you’re wasting your time here.
And yet, with the weighty crap that holds a song like “Hypermisophoniac” together, surprisingly, the album doesn’t drag its heels like it should. That’s because the Rage Against the Machine influenced main riff and bouncy groove, coupled with a rap-approached vocal performance for “Over and Over and Over”, become the left-field surprises needed to see this thing through to the end. It’s not a good album, but it’s far from an uninteresting one. It feels like a collection of songs performed and acted out with instinctual emotion; like improvised Live Art, or a flamboyant theatre play. It’s an interesting puzzle of a record, which adds further complexities to Jack’s character, but you can’t help but feel his creative spark is dulling out with every album – which is ironic given the free rein that’s being ran with here. Boarding House Reach
offers a mountain pile of intrigue but fails to restrain itself and make out on solid tracks, and what you’re left with is a mix bag of obscure ideas with little payoff. In fact, “improvised” is probably the most applicable word to use here because I don’t think Jack even knew what was going on during the creative development of Boarding House Reach
. It’s worth a spin for curiosity’s sake, but don’t go into this expecting solid guitar work, titillating solos or any other commonly appealing trait to Jack White because you’ll be sorely disappointed.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A