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'Boarding House Reach' expands the definition of a Jack White album

Indie | Tuesday 3rd April 2018 | David

For quite possibly the first time this decade, Jack White is sounding spontaneous and unpredictable. A patchwork of disparate sounds reminiscent of Beck, Prince or the Beastie Boys at their most versatile, Boarding House Reach is a funky Frankenstein’s monster of an album full of loose, fragmentary musical mutations that are alternately invigorating and irritating.

From its terrible cover art onwards, the former White Stripes frontman’s latest release is destined to divide listeners and rattle the cages of any fan who’s become too attached to White’s long-established brand of bluesy garage rock. Boarding House Reach expands the definition of a Jack White album, though few of these tracks could have come from any other artist.

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While fans of his early work are still thrown a bone here and there – notably in 'Over and Over and Over', a riff-driven rocker originally written for The White Stripes back in 2005 – those moments are exceptions amidst a hodgepodge of cracked excursions that usually eschew the typical verse-chorus-verse structure. Woozy synths, processed vocals and spoken word passages find their place next to jazzy pianos, crunchy guitars and acoustic fingerpicking in an album that’s less a collection of songs than a series of experiences.

Some tracks ripen over multiple listens (the swaggering, psychedelic freak-out ‘Respect Commander’; the tender closing ballad ‘Humoresque’) while others prove to be short-lived novelties (the vague, self-righteous diatribe ‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’) but the album’s endearingly messy whole is more than the sum of its disjointed parts. For a notoriously technophobic control freak like White, Boarding House Reach is the album equivalent of a drunken bender. The singer staggers out of his comfort zone in all directions, and while the results can be awkward and frustrating, it’s more often a refreshing experience to hear him finally cutting loose.

 

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