Jack White – Boarding House Reach (Sony)
“Who’s with me?!” announce a chorus of people at the beginning of “Corporation,” one of the most gloriously whacked-out songs on this batshit-crazy new Jack White album. By the end of the five-and-a-half-minute funkfest, White is whooping maniacally, in ways we’ve never heard from him—or any other major artist of these times.
It’s worth noting that Jack White was one of many collaborators on Beyoncé’s Lemonade album—an album where the carefully constructed superstar took her music places it had never been before, and allowed her voice to sound vulnerable and raw. The result was one of the most acclaimed albums in recent memory. By breaking her own mould, Beyoncé—a superstar known largely for her singles—became even bigger than she already was.
That said, Lemonade is considerably more commercial than Boarding House Reach, which will baffle and befuddle many. Jack White is pigeonholed as a rock’n’roll traditionalist, someone who can write Zeppelin riffs and fiddle-driven country songs and write modern-day blues anthems. For people who want the progression of music to stop in 1982, White is their man.
But White is clearly no one’s man. (And on the androgynous album cover, he’s clearly playing with notions of manhood in general.) “Do you want everything? Then you can have everything. But what is everything?” he asks on “Everything You’ve Ever Learned,” preaching over a track driven by congas, synth strings and fuzz bass. “Respect Commander” has synth stabs lifted from Detroit techno, over a furious live drum beat that pauses only for an organ interlude and then a short slide into a slow Hendrixian blues. The Metallica-esque drumming on “Ice Station Zebra” is interspersed with barrelhouse piano and amateur rapping, including the line, “You create your own box, you don’t have to listen to any of the label-makers printing your obituary.” On top of all that, the album is peppered with equally dramatic and silly spoken-word interludes.
What does this all mean? Either "Sisyphean dreamer" Jack White has lost his mind or he’s actually hitting a creative peak. I vote for the latter.
We’ve come to expect our favourite artists to repeat the same formula ad nauseam, when every hit song seems formulated to get not only on radio but an ad placement and somehow all lead up to a headlining festival slot—a formula that White himself is as guilty of as anyone.
Boarding House Reach, on the other hand, embraces absurdist juxtaposition. White’s musical passions are even more eclectic than expected, and he’s determined to stuff it all into every track here. Sure, his rapping sucks, but he’s not making rap music: he’s simply pulling from every possible direction and smashing square pegs until they fit into every hole. People like Beck do this and make it sound slick; White is deliriously sloppy, and therefore ten times more interesting.
Who’s with him? (March 30)
Stream: “Corporation,” “Over and Over and Over,” “Respect Commander”