sun 22/04/2018

CD: Jack White – Boarding House Reach | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Jack White – Boarding House Reach

CD: Jack White – Boarding House Reach

The former White Stripe shows flashes of occasional brilliance in a bold experiment

Jack White isn’t one to shy away from a challenge. Whether it’s launching a record player into space to play Carl Sagan’s “A Glorious Dawn”, or embarking on seemingly unlikely collaborations with Beyoncé or hip hop act A Tribe Called Quest, he seems to be a game sort. It’s this ambition (with a small "a" – for "artistic") that we see writ large over Boarding House Reach, his third solo LP and the first he’s released in four years.

The result is a sprawling collection of songs, uneven to the point of seeming almost willfully inconsistent and, occasionally stunning. Boarding House Reach is impressive in its, well… reach, taking influence from gospel, jazz, electronica and hip-hop. However, it often feels like White has gone to grab something without properly judging the distance and has ended up falling flat. It’s in equal parts brilliant, unfathomable and infuriating.

The opener and lead single “Connected by Love” is a perfect example. It’s a gospel song that builds from a soft beginning to a rousing and uplifting conclusion. White’s delivery is fine, as ever, but there is something disconcerting about the electronics that have been bolted on, especially at the start. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly integrated about it – it feels like a plug-in rather than Jack White 2.0. This means the production treatment comes across as incongruous rather than thrilling. It’s like putting sprinkles on a soufflé.

However, there are moments when his open-armed approach to stylistic experimentation works wonders. “Why Walk a Dog” has a dramatic synth stab that wows, while overdriven guitar rendered in computer colours thrills. The lyrics seem to have been made up on the spot while looking out of the window, but are delivered with a commitment that just about makes up for it.

“Ice Station Zebra” is another standout, and the first chance we get to hear the impressive band of session musicians really earn their money. It switches pace and rhythm as if it’s trying to evade a predator, while White’s carefree delivery brings to mind early Beastie Boys – a trick repeated from “Corporation” which, in places, could well be a Check Your Head outtake.

The album ends with another curveball in “Humoresque”. What starts out as a gentle lullaby changes as the voice drops away and the band fills out the sound to make a beautiful jazz-flecked instrumental that is over far too soon.

So, Boarding House Reach is, by no means a great album, but it’s certainly an album with some great moments. It is a bold experiment, and as long as Jack White has the will and the temperament to try new things, there’s sure to be something worth listening to. 

@jahshabby

As long as Jack White has the will and the temperament to try new things, there’ll be something worth listening to

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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