“Boarding House Reach” is an experimental, wild, messy, all over the place album. It’s also the most fun album Jack White’s put out in years.
For over five years Jack White’s music has thoroughly underwhelmed me. To me, “Blunderbuss” and “Lazaretto” both sounded bland, safe, clean, and – worst of all – not fun.
When I was growing up, Jack White made fun music. Jack White songs bled sentiment, nonsense, and energy in equal measure whether they were fast or slow. They weren’t wildly complex, they weren’t compositional masterpieces, and they weren’t lyrical mindblowers but they were a blast to listen to and sounded like they were a blast to make. Jack White packed emotion and oomph into his vocals, shaking his syllables like Elvis and hollering like a punk band all while pumping out iconically catchy guitar riffs.
“Boarding House Reach” is here and the old Jack White, the Fun Jack White is back.
Fun Jack White comes with nonsense and silliness and that’s gonna push some folks away. It’s easy to forget under the prestige the White Stripes have obtained that they were never a band afraid to be ridiculous. In “Rag and Bone” Jack White impersonates an entrepreneurial dumpster diver and “Astro” is all about a secret dance move we all do. These are unapologetically goofy songs.
Fun Jack White’s gonna lose more people when they hear how helter-skelter his albums are. Fun Jack White’s got all sorts of ideas and they’re all over all sorts of places. Some song ideas are ballads, some are hard-hitters, and some are totally off-kilter. See “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told),” “Little Cream Soda,” and “St. Andrew (This Battle Is In The Air),” all off of “Icky Thump.” You stick with Fun Jack White because even if the ideas on his albums don’t totally make sense stuck together, they all seem like a fitting part of the same wild ride.
Fun Jack White makes up for everything and wins so many people over with his incredible driving rhythms. He’ll pick out a few straightforward sounds, he’ll string together a few dead-simple instrumental lines, and he’ll put his invested and colorful vocal style over them and sell them to you until you’re listening to them over and over. He’ll loan them out for commercials and sports broadcasts and they’ll sell them to you again. That’s why you’ve heard “Seven Nation Army” more times than your full name spoken out loud.
On his new album “Boarding House Reach,” Jack White has done all of this and more.
Like with older Fun Jack White projects, the album’s songs have the same tone and rough feel but are vastly different from one another.For example, “Ice Station Zebra” has some odd rock-rap that doesn’t show up in the same way at any other time.
As it was before, the lyrics are nonsensical and silly even when they may not mean to be. I don’t know if I’m supposed to find “Why Walk a Dog?” – “Boarding House Reach’s” second track – funny but I do. It’s absurd right from the title but maybe that matches its message that pet ownership is a little absurd. Other tracks are clearly meant to be silly. The interludes on this album revel in how over the top they are, “Abulia and Akrasia” basically using as many five-dollar words as possible to make a fifty-cent sentence.
Most of all, “Boarding House Reach” has those rhythms, those sweet driving rhythms, that are so fun. Nearly every track that isn’t under two minutes long has a strong riff or moment that punches itself into your brain. Still, it’s not a White Stripes repeat. “Over and Over and Over” has the simple, splashy, cymbal-heavy drums and guitar-riff led beats of the White Stripes but past that this album is a new sound.
Fun Jack White likes to shake it up and that’s just what he did on “Boarding House Reach.” He added bongos, he modulated his vocals like crazy, he wrote much more dynamic drum lines than the White Stripes ever had, and he picked out some nice bass elements from funk and blues.
“Everything You’ve Ever Learned” is composed of mostly bongos, synths, strings, and screaming. “Get In The Mind Shaft” is a funk song where Jack White’s voice is modified to a robotic garble. “Corporation” doesn’t have a full verse until around three minutes in and is littered with sudden, high pitched yelps and mesmerizing bass improvisations. “Respect Commander” speeds up and slows down its tempo on a dime and mixes blues guitar breakdowns with whooping vocals modulated to all hell. Every one of these songs is experimental and messy and wild and a damn good time.
With “Boarding House Reach” Fun Jack White is back. Like always, Fun Jack White has his problems. Some songs get lost in the wild mix of hyped and hopped up tracks. Other songs run a bit too off the rails in lyrics or in structure. I don’t know if Fun Jack White makes 10/10 albums but I know he’s a thing to celebrate. I know that well-made and sincere fun is a masterful thing in its own way.