Boarding House is a Reach

Songwriter Jack White tries for something different on new album. Photo courtesy of Third Man Records

This isn’t a think piece. Not an “in defense of “article or a faux open letter. Let’s just call it what it is.

Jack White wrote a bad album. For the first time. Ever.

The bluesman has high-class problems. Arguably the best guitarist in a generation doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. Fine. Make inwards and grow? Even better, but White’s Boarding House Reach is the modern, sonic equivalent of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.

While mean fanboys will cite its genius, casual fans will turn away with the truth being somewhere in the middle. What is clear is Jack White’s electric dalliance clearly is a misstep in his expertly crafted analog aesthetic. Its good in theory. Repurposing blues song structures to a synth aesthetic is hardly original and it just reeks of contrivance.

“Connected by Love” starts off well enough with the fervor of a gospel revival but is sunk with a lazy trap beat. And then it gets worse. “Why walk a dog” and “Get in the Mind Shaft” make you ask, “Why am I listening to this?” with its non-sequitur lyrics and aimless song structure. Credit White being able to go from “why” to “how” because I sincerely don’t know how “Abulia and Akras” and “Ezmerelda Steals the Show” ever made it into the canon of the guitarist’s music. Technically, they’re interludes but they add nothing to the proceedings. You must listen to “Everything You’ve Ever Learned” a few times because it’s just that unmemorable.

The treble funk of “Corporation” is nice and reminds me, but is a redux of post-prime Beck but not as good. White can still shred when he wants to. It’s a shame he doesn’t as “Hypermisophoniac” recalls the funkier parts of “Get Behind Me Satan.” “Ice Station Zebra” sounds as close as what White had in his head, artistically.

“Over and Over and Over” is instant classic Jack White. The upbeat dreams, the fuzzy and angular guitar riffs with the catchy chorus, “Over” could’ve been on White’s masterpiece—“Elephant.”

Boarding House Reach is a wonderfully horrible experiment. It feels like a missed opportunity as the songwriter is otherwise in a creative peak. Listen at your own risk.


JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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