Review Summary: "As a maker, you tend to do too much, because you’re there with all the tools and you keep putting things in. As a listener, you’re happy with quite a lot less." - Brian Eno
In an interview with Charlie Rose in 2005 while promoting his then new White Stripes album, Get Behind Me Satan
, Jack White explained how “there’s more creativity when there’s less opportunity.” Being composed of only Jack’s vocals and guitar work, and Meg White’s primitive but powerful drumming, the White Stripes proved their minimalist motto time and time again with a sound that managed to both pay tribute to Jack’s blues rock obsessions of yesteryear while being something entirely new in itself. It was a sound that was intimate yet gigantic.
In the seven years since the band broke up, White has actually shown a lot of success going in the complete opposite direction of his past ideals. With solo records, Blunderbuss
(2012) and Lazaretto
(2014) and their respective tours, White ventured out beyond the iconic two-member lineup to pursue a sound that was more orchestral, expanding his lineup to include piano, cello, fiddle, and mandolin to name a few. It was a decision warranted by the opportunity to create a more textured, nuanced sound, and one that enabled him to take bigger leaps as he genre hopped from track to track. On his latest record, Boarding House Reach
, the guitar god follows in this continuously expansive direction by employing Kendrick Lamar’s live backing band, in an effort to incorporate a healthy dose of funk, hip hop, and electronica into his patented blues rock sound. Unfortunately, it all fails to come together in a captivating way, and instead comes off forced, disjointed, and obnoxious.
The funny thing is what Jack is going for on this album feels like it has already been accomplished with his 2014 track, “Lazaretto.” With the track being a cohesive mixture of hip hop-esque lyricism, funk, white’s roaring guitar work, and electronic flourishes, the end product sounded like the sonic offspring of Portishead meets Led Zeppelin. The track was a one off on a record that mostly followed White’s folk ambitions, but god damn, what an opener it was!
Boarding House Reach
, a listen that manages to be worse than its album cover (artwork that looks like it would have appealed to a late and sadly deranged Michael Jackson), takes this sound and does something terribly disjointed with it. The track I believe encapsulates most of the album’s problems is “Hypermisophoniac.” In a recent interview with ALT 98.7, he described his intent with the track as an attempt to take “annoying musical sounds and make something beautiful with them.” I think this is a challenging task but the risk has proven worth the reward in the past with records like Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition
(2016) or Beck’s Mellow Gold
(1994), but unlike those records he fails to bring these drastically different sounds together in a way that’s listenable in any conventional sense. Perhaps, the track is better taken as a ride in abstraction, but it’s hard to believe the trip would ever elicit a response beyond annoyance. Unfortunately, the results of this song, and on a larger scale, this album, come nowhere close to being “beautiful.”
Yet, Jack White is doing a bang-up job of marketing his new record. In his latest round of interviews, he’s been speaking about the experimental direction he took with the album, how it’s a “grower,” and how he still puts himself in hard situations to yield creativity. It’s all classic Jack White interview material, and it’s all does a majestic job of covering up the major pitfalls of this record. Songs like “Respect Commander” and “Corporation” paint the picture of an artist with too many toys in the studio. The tracks are so overloaded it’s hard not to think of the scene in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story where Dewey is high out of his mind and is desperately trying to craft a masterpiece in the studio by adding an endless number of musicians, styles, and sounds to his track. Though the scene was parodying classic rock artists of the 60s, who reaped more rewards from their drug induced experimentation, Jack White seems to be of sober mind as of late and yet still manages to be in the same boat as Dewey: with an absolute mess. It’s a rare case of life imitating art, imitating life. Factor in the fact that Jack White made a cameo in the film as an impulsively karate chopping Elvis, and your mind-*** for the day is set.
Critiquing this record just seems in bad taste because of what a large-scale misfire it is. Picking apart the deranged podium rantings of “Everything You’ve Learned” would be like pulling a wheelchair out from under someone, and poking fun at the dad-rap of “Ice Station Zebra” would be no better than laughing at someone with a stutter that’s trudging through a Shakespearian monologue. So, rather than continue with pointless “bullying,” perhaps it’s better take a note from “Everything You Learned” and instead ask “better questions”-