'But just as he was applying that final stroke, that final chisel, it seems that he’s slipped, made a false mark.' Asher Breuer Weil reviews Jack White's third solo offering, Boarding House Reach
Jack White is a man with a lot to say. And boy has he said it. From his recent accusation that DJ Khaled doesn’t really do anything, to his numerous fallings out with artists such as Lady Gaga, Ryan Adams and The Black Keys, along with his denouncement of Donald Trump, he clearly is not scared to speak his mind. And in a strange way, this has always manifest itself brilliantly in his music.
His first two solo albums, Lazaretto and Blunderbuss, were dense with plainly odd lyrics: "I mean, she's my baby/ But she makes me get avuncular/ And when my monkey is jumpin'/ I got no time to make it up to her." It must be the first time ‘avuncular’ has ever been used in a song, ever. Equally, "My feet are burnin' like a Roman hypocaust / But the Romans are gone, they changed their name because they lost," must contain the only reference to a Roman hypocaust in modern music.
Yet it worked. It fit with the frankly bat-shit-crazy instrumentation in a way that became magical, entrancing and pure. If The White Stripes was his attempt to carve his way into rock history, Jack White solo is the chiselling that makes the sculpture whole. It is the creative gloss that affirms a musician as a genius.
If The White Stripes was his attempt to carve his way into rock history, Jack White solo is the chiselling that makes the sculpture whole.
But just as he was applying that final stroke, that final chisel, it seems that he’s slipped, made a false mark. Boarding House Reach may be the only album in his discography that has more flaws than merit.
The problems begin as early as the first song. ‘Connected by Love’, the leading single from the album, is just too corny to mean anything. Repeating over and over that "we’re connected by love" with that same organ and choir running in the background becomes tiresome quickly. For a man who has mastered ‘the single’ – ‘Seven Nation Army’, ‘Icky Thump’, ‘Lazaretto’ – it is shockingly mediocre. The only remedy is that explosion of guitar about two thirds of the way through the song, but it’s just not enough.
But maybe that’s what this album is. Just not enough. For all the experimentation, there is so little music. It’s difficult to explain without listening, but there just isn’t enough song. He has packed the album with so much sound, but it doesn’t coalesce. ‘Hypermisophoniac’ is the perfect example of this. There is so much going on, so many strokes of undeniable musical talent, but none of it fits. That robot revving that runs through the whole song is overbearing. The honky-tonk piano is also mesmerizing, but gets lost beneath everything else.
The closest it comes to any musical harmony is in the songs following this. ‘Ice Station Zebra’, whilst featuring some misplaced rapping, is a thoroughly entertaining song. ‘Over and Over and Over’ is a far more old-school rock ’n’ roll Jack White single, and ‘Respect Commander’ I think is the best track on the album; it builds better than any other, meshing the sounds into a far more controlled chaos than the songs before it.
But then as you reach the end, paddling through the robo-mush of ‘Get in the Mind Shaft’ and ‘What’s Done is Done’, the only memorable bits are those in which it appears Jack White has finally run out of things to say.
"Are you their master? / Did you buy them at the store? / Did they know they were a cure / For you to stop being bored?" these lines from ‘Why Walk a Dog’ are already being parodied by critics, and understandably so. The lyrics from ‘Corporation’, "Yeah, I'm thinking about starting a corporation / Who's with me? / Nowadays, that's how you get adulation" sound like the ramblings of an old man who doesn’t really get it, and again, "we’re connected by love" hardly inspires any confidence of wisdom in the man.
If anything, the lengths that Jack goes to experiment on this album show you how far he’s come already. Pushing it further clearly isn’t working, so as a listener, why not venture deeper into his past and trace the steps of a genius gone one step too far.
Featured image: Third Man / Jack White
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