In popular culture, Jack White still probably can’t shake off the infamous riffs of Seven Nation Army. But between The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather, he has managed to create an expansive, varied output over the past two decades. Now, returning with his third solo album, ‘Boarding House Reach’, White heads in a slightly new direction, combining his love for blues and rock with a host of unexpected twists.
Connected By Love is a straightforward, solid opener to the album. As a lead single it successfully situates us in familiar territory, with signature Jack White wails and catchy blues motifs, however, the pulsating industrial synths and hints of other genres suggest that there may be something more interesting to come.
What follows is a wildly interesting set of tracks. Corporation is fun and funky, driven by rhythmic themes and raw vocals; Hypermisophoniac is a symphony for Moog synthesiser and jazz piano; while Over and Over and Over is a gloriously-distorted rock anthem. On Ice Station Zebra, White raps “I’m never gonna go where you want me to go,” and it’s clear that he has done whatever he wants to on this project.
The album has echoes of everything from Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, to Beastie Boys and Rage Against The Machine, like the history of rock thrown in a blender. It’s constantly swerving and surprising, with jazz and electronic interludes, and the deluge of influences lies somewhere between confusing chaos and creative genius.
There are also two spoken word tracks – one featuring Australian blues musician C.W. Stoneking – that provide quieter moments in the midst of this musical madhouse. The layers of sound are then stripped back entirely at the end of the album, with bluesy folk ballad What’s Done is Done, and a bizarre lilting rendition of Dvo?ák’s Humoresque.
At times, ‘Boarding House Reach’ may veer into pretentiousness or self-indulgence, but it also makes for a joyous, thrilling listen. The esoteric trip travels to the outer reaches of White’s mind, and comes back with something eclectic and eccentric, much like the man himself. It is not exactly a cohesive collection of songs, but rather a string of ideas that shouldn’t work together, but somehow do.