Jack White Condenses Rock ‘n’ Roll History on ‘Boarding House Reach’

Anyone vaguely familiar with Jack White can see that he considers himself the very face of rock ‘n’ roll. He speaks incessantly of how rock ‘n’ roll needs a new force, and of how he can sense it’s impending presence. He has turned out an impressive catalogue with the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, and as a solo artist. He has also devoted his energy to such ideals as bringing the physicality back to the music industry with his label Third Man Records. Now he’s back with a new album, “Boarding House Reach,” and it shows him dishing out his standard fare, but pushing the boundaries generously.

Great songwriters are able to tap into the collective consciousness, presenting sounds that trigger a petrifying, subconscious, nostalgic rush, activating latent proclivities, and making you feel the excitement that you felt when you first heard music that changed your life. When the music changes at a dramatic moment, and you see the excitement in other people’s faces, you experience a special connection, a shared emotional experience. Jack White is well versed in rock ‘n’ roll history, and turns out melodies and noises of immediate, emotive resonance. It’s fitting that the first song on his new record is titled, “Connected By Love.” Cheesy as it may sound, all listeners that respond to the music are indeed connected by love. On the other hand, Jack White once brought us the lyrics, “My left brain knows that all love is fleeting,” so take it with a grain of salt — still a nice thought though.   

“Why Walk A Dog” has a David Lynch feel. It’s sluggish, quirky blues with a surreal atmosphere. “Corporation” is retro, protest music, the type of fare that Ian Svenonius churns out, but without the ironic posturing. It’s a mobilizing, rebellious song in the spirit of Gil Scott Heron. Jack gets pretty crazy with his falsetto, at times sounding like an absolute lunatic, and apparently aware of it, because he asks afterwards, “Who’s with me?” If you appreciate boldness in music, you’ll likely be with him.

“Hypermisophoniac” is set to a repeating figure of a presumptuous, synthesized bend and a discordant beep. The classic rock ‘n’ roll styling of the song is framed in this noise, giving it a unique character. “Ice Station Zebra” sounds like an eccentric take on old school hip hop. “Over And Over And Over” is classic Jack White, as if everything he represents had been condensed into a single track. “Everything You’ve Ever Learned” begins with a Big Science-era Laurie Anderson type of voice, declaring, “Hello, welcome to everything you ever learned / Brought to you by / Hello…” It’s an existential moment, capturing the absurdity of modern life, and seeming to raise questions about the omnipotence of technology (NSA, etc.) It turns into another protest song, with rebellious calls to action over a breakbeat. Jack White certainly has a lot of passion.

“Respect Commander” is a stream of consciousness exercise. Jack starts off playing one song, switches randomly to another, then switches again. It’s the type of thing that musicians usually shy away from, out of fear of alienating an audience. But Jack has accrued enough cred to throw all caution to the wind, and release indulgent, eccentric bursts like this. And it works, I f you’re up to it. Midway, the song settles into a Lynchian groove, all corvettes and dim lighting. Jack’s guitars are deliciously raw and primal, and the whole listening experience is pretty wild.

On “Get In The Mind Shaft,” Jack goes full Parliament Funkadelic/Daft Punk. It’s an absolute riot of funk. And Jack White is beyond any concern for an elegant segue. He launches straight into country in the next song. There is a casualness in the vocal harmonies that gives an Americana vibe, and the backing track is slightly discordant, making the song seem like something imagined, out of context.

Overall, the new album showcases Jack White acting on whims and taking liberties. Sometimes an artist develops such a distinct voice and personality that he ends up seeming a bit like a parody of himself; such is the case here. Jack White really sounds like Jack White. Any old fans will have moments of revelry, and the more adventurously spirited will take even greater pleasure.

Boarding House Reach” is available March 23 on Apple Music