Review: Jack White – Boarding House Reach

Cian Montague reviews Jack White’s latest and most disappointing album, Boarding House Reach.

Jack White’s first two solo records weren’t bad, so there was healthy anticipation for this latest outing. Unfortunately, for much of Boarding House Reach, it seems that White has lost his mind.

Quite frankly, this thing is a mess. Much of the appeal of White’s early work came from his thrilling stabs of catchy melodies and manic energy, but this is all but gone here. Song structures have gone out the window, and many of the tracks feel like multiple songs in one. They lurch between drastically different timbres and tones. It’s incoherent and jarring and at times downright confusing. White plays around with electronic sounds quite a bit on this album, but they’re often clunky and soulless, as in the bleeps and whirrs on ‘Hypermisophoniac’ or the squelchy, distorted keyboards on ‘Ice Station Zebra.’ It’s a wonder where he comes up with these names.

There’s far too much spoken word; the most egregious offender being ‘Abulia and Akrasia,’ where White taps Australian blues singer C.W. Stoneking to recite an obtuse poem, which only lives to squeeze in as many big words as possible. White seems to have gone for a dystopian theme with this album but this mostly comes across as pretentious posturing, with White seeking to prove how much smarter he is than everyone else. He offers “You people are totally absurd” as an inspired revelation on ‘Ezmerelda Steals the Show.’ ‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’ leans heavily and annoyingly on Black Mirror-style satire. The condescension continues with sneering takes on capitalism (‘Corporation’) and even pet ownership (‘Why Walk a Dog?’).

The album ends on a stronger note: although not exactly inspired, ‘What’s Done Is Done’ is a pretty ballad with pleasing harmonies between White and Esther Rose. Closer ‘Humoresque’ is the record’s strongest point, and tellingly is the only song not written by White. In fact, the melody was written by composer Antonín Dvořák while the lyrics, remarkably, are Al Capone’s. So, there you have it: a fittingly bizarre ending to this mystifying work.

In a nutshell: There’s little to connect this release to White’s earlier discography, and it’s a tough experiment to buy into.