Boarding House Reach marks the third full length project from Jack White, after releasing six compelling albums as front man of The White Stripes. This record (released on 23 March) shows White beginning to experiment with some different sonic styles, a natural course of progression after sticking fairly routinely to The White Stripes’ sound on his previous two solo LPs, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto.
In fact it might be said that this occasionally doctrinaire-seeming rock icon has torn up his own self-imposed rule book altogether. This apparent ‘loosening up’ is made explicit on one of his lyrically strongest songs, Ice Station Zebra: “I’m never gonna go where you want me to go,” he sings, “Listen up if you want to hear, and if you can’t stand it then...”.
Boarding House Reach incorporates a multitude of different stylistic influences, from country and blues elements that have become synonymous with Jack White’s music in the past, to more electronic instrumentation and sounds ranging from the funk guitar at the end of Ice Station Zebra to the house drum machine and chords at the start of Respect Commander. This collision of genres is perhaps most evident on tracks like Get in the Mind Shaft, a psychedelic groove where wild vocoder vocals play over jazzy keys, or What’s Done is Done, which adds a skittery drum machine to a male and female country duet. The sultry and moody Why Walk a Dog? is also an undoubtable highlight, as Jack White draws out some fantastic distorted tones out of what might be one of his many Gretsch models or one of his new acquisitions as the EVH Wolfgang USA Stealth, over some eerie organ chords.
That is not to say that the blues rock traits that have defined Jack White’s music in the past have disappeared completely. In fact, there are many instances on this album where these come to the foreground. Songs such as Ice Station Zebra and Over and Over and Overbring back the gutsy guitars and pummeling drums that would fit perfectly with a red and white colour scheme.
Not all of the experimentation on this record pays off though and some tracks feel a little overcomplicated, making the album somewhat of a mixed bag. Hypermisophoniac is a good example of this, as a bluesy jam plays underneath a bunch of glitchy beeps and textures that feel completely out of place and unnecessary. Also, while the intention of an epic and anthemic opener is clear, Connected By Love sounds passive and flat, and is not the impactful opener it was aiming to be.
While this album is not without its faults, it shows a certain artistic maturity from Jack White in the diversification of his signature sound. There are moments when this experimentation does not quite hit the mark, but for the most past Boarding House Reach shows a veteran rock icon successfully branching out into new territory, which can leave only anticipation for what is next.