It sometimes seems to be a little difficult to remember exactly what incarnation of Jack White you’re listening to at any one time…
The White Stripes, The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather all give a wide collection of which to choose from but all of them have the distinct, eccentric flavour of his guitar playing and song writing. This prolific band history coupled with the guest collaborations he does makes it a little surprising then, being prolific with many different bands as he is, that he’s found the time for his third solo album; Boarding House Reach.
Whereas you might be expecting a stripped down and raw sounding rock album, Boarding House Reach sees White crossover into many territories such as 80s hip hop-esque drum beats, bluesy classic rock, synth loops and bizarre production effects. “Experimental” is definitely not a word that would be considered unfair when describing most of the 13 tracks on the album. Fans of his previous work will find something for them on here such as “Over and Over and Over”, but for those only seeking that brash, retro rock sound it’ll be slim pickings I’m afraid. Instead, what’s on offer for the majority of the time is a collection of soundscapes that range from funk-infused rapping to ethereal effects on loop for 2 – 3 minutes or so.
For an eclectic writer such as Jack White, a few smoky and trippy jam-style meanderings à la Deep Purple is certainly not unappreciated by his fanbase. However, just as anything like that starts to take shape, the dynamic suddenly shifts and a whole new song has seemingly started despite you being only halfway through the song. It’s jarring and annoying mostly, which results in frustration for the listener more than anything. Just as unwanted is the alarming amount of spoken word, coffee-house poetry style lyrics that appear on “Ezmerelda Steals the Show” and other songs on offer.
By the time the final track comes around, it’s a relief that I’ve got to the end of the album. This is not something that I enjoy saying about a talented multi-instrumentalist but apart from the odd song, the majority of the record seems like filler in place of solid song writing. It’s not the slightly bizarre and disjointed melodies and harmonies that cause the issue, nor is it the frequency of synthesised sounds used instead of real instruments. It’s the fact that it feels like there’s very little actual accessible content to get your teeth into. Very little of the album feels like it would go onto a playlist of “favourites”, “road trip songs”, “BBQ music” or any other event you might otherwise want your music library involved with.
Realistically, you may like the odd one or two songs on here, maybe even three of four, but I just can’t see how anyone would have the patience to listen to the entirety of the album without needing to skip a lot of the songs. Boarding House Reach is a brave but risky departure from the usual groovy guitar-riff exploits that you would usually associate with Jack White. The album is just too sporadic though, which means you never get to enjoy that beat, loop or melody before the carpet is whipped out from under your feet. There are no blazing rock songs like “Lazaretto” or “Sixteen Saltines” that’ll make you tap your feet like his previous solo work.
There’s always a certain amount of respect I have for an artist who’s willing to push boundaries and explore different avenues, but there’s a very fine line between trying new conceptual ideas and going off piste. There needs to be a product at the end of it and Boarding House Reach has little in the way of an accessible product.
Author: Steve, Bristol store