Review: Jack White’s “Boarding House Reach”


Jack White is one of the most influential musicians of the past 20 years and his new album, “Boarding House Reach,” is definitely his most experimental album yet.

White rose to fame while in the garage rock band The White Stripes and since then he has won 12 Grammys, formed two other successful bands, created a record label, created a retail record store, became an influential contributor to the revival of vinyl records, and started a solo career. His first two solo albums, “Blunderbuss” and “Lazaretto,” were incredibly successful, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard charts with their distinctive yet versatile sounds.

“Boarding House Reach” is White’s third solo album, and while it does have some similarities to his previous albums, its unique sound definitely pushes him deep into new territory.

To put it simply, “Boarding House Reach” is fantastically bizarre. The album is a challenge to listen to: each song has many layers to it and is incredibly complex. The album is rooted in rock, blues, funk, and jazz, similar to most of White’s music; however, “Boarding House Reach” also incorporates post-new wave synth and electronic sounds into every song. The record has a vintage yet futuristic tone as it meshes together very divergent sounds and styles of music.

The song “Ice Station Zebra” is a perfect example of the exploratory tone of the album. The song is very unpredictable, changing rhythms and melodies multiple times within the first forty seconds. It seems as if White pulled snippets of sound from a bunch of different songs and put them all together; weirdly enough, it works well. As the song progresses, each part is layered and repeated creating an elaborate and unusual sound. The first minute of the song, a scattered and disjointed instrumental, takes a more defined form as White begins speaking his verses over the instruments. As odd as the song is, “Ice Station Zebra” is strangely appealing and a fun listen.

“Hypermisophoniac” is a song named after a condition that causes one to hate sound. The song fuses new wave synth and jazz piano to a guitar driven rock song. The vocals jump from having distortion effects to being completely electronically modified. The guitar’s gritty sound is reminiscent of his music with The White Stripes and the blues-infused ragtime piano riffs sound similar to those on his first solo album, “Blunderbuss.” At first, I thought the title of the song was very fitting: I was not a huge fan and part of me wanted to skip over the track. However, as I listened to it more, I started to enjoy it. In typical Jack White form he begs the listener to truly listen. It is only then that the noises come together to create a beautiful and nontraditional sounding piece.

Despite “Boarding House Reach” having an electronic influence, the tracks “Over And Over And Over” has a much more of a traditional Jack White vibe: it’s heavily blues-influenced and more guitar-centric. “Over and Over and Over” is a rhythm driven song with distorted guitar. It is definitely the most high energy song on “Boarding House Reach” and has a similar tone to ‘Sixteen Saltines’ off of “Blunderbuss.”

“Boarding House Reach” is probably not for everyone: it is abstract and at times very strange, but it is, however, an incredible work of art.

New listeners might have a hard time getting hooked, but those who have followed and listened to White for a while will not be disappointed.