Boarding House Reach is Jack White’s experimental third solo album, it is a dynamic amalgamation of songs eclipsing all his work so far. In recent years he has managed to expand his Third Man empire in what seems like an all encompassing music production stronghold. Its hard to not picture this album as somehow the ultimate Jack White album, as though he finally has the space to expand into what he’s always been working towards. Across his several projects, he has certainly experimented before, however his typical Garage and Blues Rock only make up a fraction of the genres employed here, elements of Rock, Punk, Funk, Folk, Gospel, Soul, Jazz, Country, Bluegrass, Hip-Hop, and even spoken word poetry run through this crisply rugged package like diamonds poking through stone.
Production and mixing of BHR are really a strong point, rock solid and punching; rich, shattering tones of Bass, Guitar, Piano and Jack’s own voice ring through. Considering his penchant for purely analogue processes from start to finish, one can only imagine the array of pedals, filters, pickups and microphones used; the sound they have managed to achieve is impressive, even more so considering that parts of the album supposedly still utilize demos made alone by Jack in an apartment in the same process and even with the same equipment, that he used at 15 years old. Matching the tones well, the album’s composition cycles with a calculated sort of grittiness, it progresses through in crumbled blocks, and by the end a real journey has been taken.
If there is a problem, for me its that the songs are very tangled up, I enjoy each of them, but most only work well within the context of the rest; slightly more separation between different chunks of concept and sound (Carefully, as to not subtract from the overall experience) may have produced a couple of extras alongside the two or three heavy hitters that work perfectly by themselves already. ‘Corporation’, ‘Hypermisophoniac’, ‘Ice Station Zebra’, ‘Ezmerelda Steals the Show’, and ‘Humoresque’ are perfectly fine by themselves too, but something feels lost to me when they are taken out of their places, the rest of the songs even more so. Jack may be a Luddite and an obvious fan of the whole album experience, but something might be gained if a few extra songs were more ‘playlist worthy’, allowing you to break up the album a bit and enjoy more of it fragmented in pieces.
“The entire record, to me, is incredibly modern, I wanted to take punk, hip-hop and rock & roll, and funnel it all into a 2018 time capsule.” – Jack White for Rolling Stone
Something to be addressed is the ‘weirdness’, many seem to take this album as weird for the sake of weird and immediately write it off. With non lyrical or even nonsensical songs like ‘Abulia and Akrasia’ or ‘Hypermisophoniac’, I admit it took three listens of the album to then suddenly realize I liked it very much. To me this represents a greater journey undertaken to fully appreciate the music; of course there are weird elements to full appreciation that wouldn’t become apparent no matter how much you listened to it, such as the intention behind ‘Hypermisophoniac’, to create something beautiful out of typically annoying sounds, or that ‘Humoresque’ was arranged in Alcatraz by Al Capone. Much like the clean but complex instrumentation, the lyrics operate over many layers, from the basic Punk like sentiments in ‘Corporation’, to some more meaningful lines from ‘Why Walk A Dog’, or ‘Over and Over and Over’, then all the way to the bottom of the mine with ‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’, or ‘Get In The Mind Shaft’; throughout, the lyrics offer a message conveyed simply through a single listen, and topics that are only picked up on after reading and analysis separate to the music. The strangeness is really a product of the sometimes rapid interchange between simple and complex, not only in terms of lyrics and ideas, but as mentioned, genre and tone. Being a loser myself I may be bias, but some others are too proud to let go and ride with the eccentricity; there is so much food on the plate here, there should be a taste somewhere for anyone, or you could simply smash the whole thing over your head.
“[Its] good gardening music or roofing music or, you know, back-alley stabbing music.” – Jack White for SPIN