Gibson and Guitar Center are approaching bankruptcy. Fender isn’t fairing much better. The days of Rock’s commercial supremacy are well and truly behind us. So where does that leave latter-day stars like Jack White, a bona fide guitar hero that built his career on old-school, blues-rock revivalism? Perhaps ironically, it leaves him with his most adventurous and vital record yet: Boarding House Reach. This 3rd solo release is an album that showcases the still-untapped potential in guitar-based music.
Unlike Greta Van Fleet, who conspicuously shelter in the past, or Coldplay and Imagine Dragons on the opposite end, on Boarding House Reach Jack White finds a fruitful balance of past and present. He melds together the unmistakable characteristics of his previous releases (fuzzy riffs, analog production, searing solos) with more modern forms. There’s heavy use of sampling, drum breaks, several skits divide up the record, and on “Ice Station Zebra” White even tries his hand at rapping.
If you clutched your pearls at that last statement, fret not. Classic Jack White is still on full display here, only weirder and more unpredictable. It’s almost as if Jack White is to the 20-teens as Beck was to the 90’s. Indeed, “Over and Over and Over” sounds like a cut from Lazaretto by way of Odelay, interjected with latin rhythms and sampled vocals. “Connected By Love” is a psychedelic ballad with a synthy bass groove out of early 00’s EDM. And “Walk the Dog” is one of White’s darkest tunes ever with lyrics concerning emotional exhaustion underpinned by escalating organ chords ripped from the Arctic Monkey’s Favourite Worst Nightmare.
Elsewhere, Jack White incorporates elements of hip-hop, country, and folk. The result is a purposefully disjointed record that defies criticism. The point of Boarding House Reach, it seems, is not to pursue aural beauty, but rather to reclaim the sense of freedom that alternative music has lacked for the better part of a decade. In that regard, Boarding House Reach is a fantastic success and one that consistently rewards bold listeners.