Jack White: Boarding House Reach

Ingenuitive, experimental, accessible: Jack White has built a wildly-successful career off of innovation. By straying from his contemporaries, shunning the public eye and creating a mythos bound to his musical character, White has found ways to continually remain relevant over the span of a two-decade career.

From The White Stripes’ “brother and sister” duo and red, black and white aesthetic to his modern-day solo career steeped with blues and country, wherein he has traded the garage-rock aggression for a calmer blue, black and white color-scheme, White’s music has gone through noticeable progressions, both by relying on important, underlying influences and introducing newfound concepts considered to be outside his realm.

White’s first two solo albums, 2012’s Blunderbuss and 2014’s Lazaretto, wore their influences on their sleeves, proudly displaying the affection for Mississippi Delta blues and classic Nashville country that he has long held near and dear. White’s 2018-release, Boarding House Reach, still sneaks in these influences (particularly on the latter tracks), but masterfully incorporates tones, ideas, editing, and genres that long went unexplored by the artist.

White, who is well-known for his minimalist approach to music, seems to have finally bound towards the the other extreme — maximalism. The surprise with this album is that White has been able to effectively take it to its outermost limits — integrating hip-hop forms and instrumentation as well as a great deal of electronic instruments (pianos, synths, drums) and sampling — without stressing it to the point of breaking.

This was apparent even before the album was released, with its diverse singles illuminating on the experimentation White had taken on: the anthemic choruses and back-up vocals on “Connected by Love”; the excessive looping and layering of instruments on “Corporation”; the electronic drum break beats, Zeppelin-esque blues breakdown and lyrics of “She has all my respect,” sexualizing the phrase in a submissive/dominant relationship, in “Respect Commander”; the fuzzed-out guitar tone and riffs White is most known for, as well as the raw power of the pitch-shifted back-up vocals, on “Over and Over and Over”; and the Beck-like vocal delivery and instrumentation on “Ice Station Zebra.”

Although White wrote all of the tracks on Boarding House Reach, except “Humoresque,” I imagine that a lot of the inspiration and experimentation similarly came from musicians he was collaborating with, either for tracks he lifted from a failed project with Jay-Z or for the various artists that helped him record this album. These collaborators, both past and present, helped to push White in the right direction, leading him towards one of his most unique albums in recent years.

In my opinion, I believe the decision to move out of his boundaries was beneficial for this album, allowing him to create something that a lot of fans have long been waiting for. There were glimpses of it on prior albums, with the eponymous track on Lazaretto, but the other albums, while still good, felt like places of comfort for White. I’m certain that White knew Boarding House Reach would alienate some people — most critics are upset that it doesn’t sound enough like the old Jack, or for the fact that he raps on “Ice Station Zebra,” god forbid — but I’m glad that he shunned the direction of his prior solo albums and created something as distinctive as this. It proves why White has been able to stay relevant the years, continually changing his approach, character and sound while letting the music speak for itself.

Watch the video for “Over and Over and Over” below:

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