I am convinced that Jack White made Boarding House Reach, which is loaded down with musical references from obscure and not-so-obscure groups, movements, and genres of music, so that critics would be forced to play a game of "name all the references" in their reviews. White, then, will yell at all of us, as he does in "Ice Station Zero" that everything isn't derivative, and if this conversation is taken to its logical conclusion, we're all "copying God." Or, at least, that's what I dreamed would happen before I sat down to write this review. If you guessed from that paragraph that Jack White finally made his yelling at the kids to get off his lawn album, you're correct. Don't let that deter you, though. Jack White ranting and raving is a lot of fun, and eccentric to the nth degree.
Things start on a spacey gospel note, with "Connected by Love" — a song that gives the impression that it's going to be hopeful, but whose lyrics turn out to be more aligned with the thoughts of male fragility from a mind you wish you'd never gone home with. Forsake him, woman. From there, we take a left turn lyrically to focus largely on the commodification of American culture and how its a crying shame throughout several songs. For me, this raises several questions, and as soon as I'm finished being distracted by having a quick dance party to "Corporation," a largely instrumental song that's like a mix of the Bar-Kays and the bongos from "Wipeout," in which White ironically asks "Who wants to start a corporation?," I shall ask them.
If Jack White starts a record label (Third Man Records) or revives a dormant label to reissue forgotten records (Paramount Records), does he run it like a business and hope to make a profit? Is that a commodification, or is the commodification of that simply a necessary evil to him to achieve artistic freedom/recognition for forgotten music? Is corporate patronage of the arts or our communities always bad? It's hard to have an intellectual debate with a song, which White is well aware of, so well-played Jack White. You win this round.
There are multiple instances during the album that I can't help imagining are tributes to Beyoncé, with whom he recorded "Don't Hurt Yourself." Bey looms large over us all, and I hear her loudest of all in "Respect Commander," but Jack White would probably tell me that's because she is who I want to hear. He could just as easily be talking about Margo Price, Brittany Howard, or Big Mama Thornton herself.
White lets things get bizarre on the album's last four tracks. First, he drops a spoken word poem, "Ezmerelda Steals the Show," that sounds like it's backed by a tiny bit of the melody to R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts." Then, he goes into to what could loosely be described as a space jam with auto-tuned vocals for "Get in the Mind Shaft." From there we get a traditional country song paired with an unusually open and loudly mic'ed bass drum beat called "What's Done is Done" that is about buying a gun because there is no integrity left in the world. Finally, White gives us "Humoresque," a lullaby sung slightly off-key, and says goodnight. It may be the oddest sequence of tracks to close an album in the history of music, but I may only think that because I live in a playlisted world of algorithms where songs bear some relationship to each other as they play out.
This album is not for everyone, but if you're able to go along with White's wild ride of a curmudgeonly adventure, it may be for you.
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