Lazaretto, Jack White’s 2014 album and second solo LP, received heavy criticism for a lack of his guitar skills. On his new record, Boarding House Reach, it seems that Jack took this criticism to heart.
As the frontman for the White Stripes, guitarist for the Raconteurs, drummer for the Dead Weather, and a prolific producer at his own Third Man Records, White has had an illustrious career filled to the brim with pretty much every sound you can think of. One thing is certain, though: he is at his best when he’s writing monster guitar riffs.
He’s played with folk, country, garage punk, Scottish bagpipe ballads, and on Boarding House Reach, White has finally explored freakish and otherworldly synthesizer sounds and used it as a backdrop for his wonderfully scratchy guitar tones that have been a staple since his early Stripes days.
Unfortunately, the album does start off with its weakest track. “Connected by Love,” which was the album’s first single, is just a bit of a bore, lacking White’s usual penchant for unique melodies and clever lyrics. Luckily, we are next treated to a ghostly, hellish organ ballad that harkens back to White’s fantastic cover of U2’s “Love is Blindness” with “Why Walk a Dog?” The lyrics are a bit weak here, but the sound and bizarre guitar solo more than make up for it.
“Corporation” is next, an extended jam session where White’s riffage comes back in full swing. This is the first song where we start to hear the hip-hop influence creep in, as White enlisted help from studio musicians who have worked with artists like Kendrick Lamar. After a lovely, creepy skit called “Abulia and Akrasia,” the next track is “Hypermisophoniac.” A misophonic is one who is afraid of annoying sounds. Jack sought to create something fun to listen to out of purely annoying sounds, including his son’s fidget cube. It’s a strange experiment but it actually is pretty enjoyable, with a catchy chorus amid the cacophony of seemingly random synthesizer swells.
“Ice Station Zebra” is the most hip-hop track of the lot, as White literally raps on it. Admittedly, the lyrics are a little corny when read on paper, but somehow White pulls it off and sounds natural. He has flirted with rapping before on songs like “That Black Bat Licorice” and even on “Lazaretto,” but here he is genuinely creating a hip-hop song. It sounds like something from A Tribe Called Quest, and that’s probably no coincidence seeing how he worked on their latest album as well.
Next up is the highlight of the album, the stadium rock anthem “Over and Over and Over.” White is at his best here, with an absolute banger of a thick, fuzzy guitar riff complete with frantic drumming and shouting. It’s a song that begs to be played to a huge festival crowd. “Respect Commander” reminds me of Frank Zappa, and that’s a huge compliment. It oozes the Mothers of Invention down to the lyrical delivery.
Other highlights on the album include “What’s Done is Done,” a country ballad from the future, and the album’s closer “Humoresque,” which Jack wrote using a manuscript found in one of Al Capone’s jail cell. These songs show his Nashville colors the most, and the beauty of them harken back to The White Stripes’ glorious quieter moments.
This album is definitely not for everyone, and some people may even absolutely hate it. This is understandable, especially the more experimental tracks like “Hypermisophoniac.” If you hate this album, however; and if you’ve ever enjoyed his work in the past, I urge you to see him live this tour. I had the pleasure of attending the first show of the tour, a surprise performance at Third Man last week announced only one day prior, and I can confidently say that these tracks thrive in a live setting. He is still one of the best performers currently working.
Jack White, the man who has always been resistant to change and technology, is finally charting new territory, and I can’t wait to see where he’s going next.