Published Mar 16, 2018Jack White has always written weird songs, but before now, his preference for traditional rock and folk instrumentation has meant that he's usually seen as a retro classicist. On Boarding House Reach, however, White is finally letting his freak flag fly.
Not only are these the strangest songs White has ever written, he's now got the eclectic instrumentation to match. These 13 tracks feature a synth-heavy sonic palette and freewheeling structures that White stitched together from extended studio jams, resulting in a postmodern mashup of vintage and futuristic. There are Blade Runner keyboards on "Get in the Mind Shaft," clavinet-driven funk on "Corporation," and adrenaline-fuelled rock riffing on "Over and Over and Over."
There's even full-blown hip-hop on "Ice Station Zebra." White isn't exactly a great rapper — his flow is more or less identical to "Parents Just Don't Understand" — but the song is an enjoyably daring romp.
Boarding House Reach is a flawed record. Theatrical electro-soul single "Connected by Love" is the most traditionally structured song here, but it's oddly tuneless, while the spaghetti western spoken word of "Abulia and Akrasia" doesn't quite gel with the synth-rock direction of the rest of the album.
Still, even when an experiment fails, it does so in intriguing and unpredictable ways. Given that White is a generation-defining musician 20 years into his career — and particularly considering the staunch minimalism he used to be known for — it's exciting to hear him indulge in a creative free-for-all. (Third Man Records)