There are a lot of things that you’re subjected to listening to when you get paid to write about music, and not all of them are good. It’s statistically impossible. I had some high hopes for “Boarding House Reach”, Jack White’s third solo album. In it, White takes some bold creative choices, and while it may be his most ambitious album to date, it shows that his attention has turned from songwriting to sonic exploration.
Sounds Are Cool
One of the best examples of this is on the track “Hypermisophoniac”, in which White takes inspiration from misphonia, otherwise known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome. People with it hate certain sounds, known as “trigger sounds” like nails on a chalkboard, or the sound of someone eating an apple too loudly.
White seemed to take this as an excuse to make a song full of the most annoying noises. Electronic synths overlap each other in a chaotic, jazzy-funk mess, with some fuzz-filled guitar laid over high-pitched beeps and modulated vocals. It’s really less of a song, and more of an experiment on White’s part. If he was trying to make me feel like I had hyper-misophonia, it worked. So maybe you can call that a success. “Hypermisophonia” is just one example of White discarding songwriting for experimental jams, but “Boarding House Reach” is full of them.
The Title Tells All
The only song that sounded like we were getting a hint of the old Jack White was “Over and Over and Over”, which starts off with an energetic fuzz riff, White’s characteristic vocals, and a heavy drum beat. It’s a shame White couldn’t take it any further. As the song goes on, you realize that you already heard the best part. The song basically repeats itself, with periodic breaks for a hasty solo here, some bongos there. It’s like he recorded the riff, thought, “This is alright, but what if there were bongos?“.
And before you say anything, I get it. “Over and Over and Over” is the title, after all. But is clever title creation really an excuse for poor songwriting?
The rest of “Boarding House Reach” is filled with songs that sound more like interludes, audio samples, spoken-word rants, and even one, “Ice Station Zebra” in which White raps. I know. I’d cover that here, but as you probably know, Pitchfork already did it.
It’s Really Not All Bad
I know it seems like I’ve been tearing into him, but for what it’s worth, Jack white does touch some interesting moments in “Boarding House Reach”. “Get In the Mind Shaft”, for instance, begins with a weird monologue about White’s life as a kid, before turning into a Daft Punk-meets-Gorillaz electro-funk jam. I really enjoyed that.
Overall, White seems to be casting off any and all previous expectations of what he is capable of. I can respect him for that. And while I didn’t necessarily enjoy most of “Boarding House Reach”, it did make me curious to hear White’s next album.