By DAN MACINTOSH
Many have reservations about the Jack White album Boarding House Reach because it doesn’t deliver the immediate buzz emitted by riff-memorable tracks like The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.”
And such reservations are valid. This latest solo album from The White Stripes’ driving force is a sonically quirky mixed bag, without a soccer stadium anthem in the bunch. Nevertheless, it promises many rewards for fans of White’s unique musical personality.
Jack White: ‘Why Walk a Dog’
The album opens with a straightforward soul song “Connected by Love,” but it’s “Why Walk a Dog” that first reveals White’s always-brainy lyrical approach. It finds White thinking out loud about the complicated relationship humans have with animals – particularly animal pets. And he’ll likely have PETA on his side when he closes the song with this inquisitive observation:
So. somebody mated them
And took their babies away from them
Stuck a price tag on their nose
And now you’re buying it clothes
“Abulia and Akrasia” is a true head-scratcher. It features C.W. Stoneking giving a spoken word performance over a classical-sounding piano arrangement. Stoneking sounds like an aristocrat by imitating John Gielgud reprising his role as the upstanding butler to Dudley Moore’s inebriated character in the film Arthur. “Hypermisophoniac” reminds us there is nowhere to run when you’re robbing bank, while “Ice Station Zebra” sounds like a nursery-rhymed groove with a distinctly Beck-ian feel.
White Stripes fans should immediately warm up to “Over and Over and Over” because of its groovy, soulful Sixties dirty electric guitar riff. White deeply expresses is esoteric side with much of this album, but this familiar sounding track reminds us that he hasn’t forgotten how to create a monster rock riff.
‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’
White is downright creepy when he incorporates a Big Brother-esque voice to introduce “Everything You’ve Ever Learned.” He then talk-sings his way through the track’s remaining vocal, which leaves him sounding like a country preacher. “Ezmerelda Steals the Show” is another instance where White chooses the spoken word approach over actual singing. “Get in the Mind Shaft” begins once again with White storytelling, before evolving into a strange, funky groove with White’s voice modified to sound like a sci-fi funk soul brother.
A Quiet and Vulnerable Jack White
White steps away from his quirkiness for “What’s Done is Done,” which – although it incorporates a woozy instrumental backing – includes a relatively straight forward country music vocal. White closes the album with “Humoresque,” which borrows its melody from Antonín Dvořák. It’s a quiet, vulnerable moment that sonically distinguishes itself from this album’s otherwise brash experimentation.
You might say Boarding House Reach separates the men from the boys when it comes to evaluating Jack White fanhood. If you only expect him to pump you up at sporting events, you’re missing his full value. This is an album expressly for those expecting White to surprise and amaze them, and really, we can’t ask for any more than that.