Tuesday 17 September 2019

Jack White's Boarding House Reach: 'He has set out to mess with the heads of his fans as much with his own head'

The most famous Mr White since Walter from Breaking Bad, Jack White, returns with an avant-garde mash-up

Boarding House Reach is the third solo album from Jack White, the 42-year-old provocateur from Detroit
Boarding House Reach is the third solo album from Jack White, the 42-year-old provocateur from Detroit
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

You have to admire a man who will name an album after the floating hospitals for sick sailors, or a place to tend to lepers called a Lazar house, in reference to Lazarus. Jack White did with his second solo release Lazaretto in 2014.

The most famous Mr White since Walter from Breaking Bad is following this up with Boarding House Reach, the scarifyingly out-of-kilter album that is closer to Frank Zappa and Funkadelic than it is to The Mississippi Sheiks, Son House or even Led Zeppelin. It is more Krautrock than Mississippi Delta swamp soul in places (Get in the Mind Shaft), less Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones than Bitches Brew by Miles Davis in terms of its fondness for seeming sonic improv at will in the studio (Respect Commander).

White, who has a mansion outside Nashville, wrote the album in a small apartment in Nashville city; he slept on an army camp bed while he put together the messy madness that is Boarding House Reach.

"I kept hearing people talk about these things called staycations. I thought, 'Well, what if I did that as a songwriter? I stay here, in Nashville but I live an alternate life inside the same town?'" he told Dave Paulson in USA Today last month.

White then took the 'songs' in their most rudimental form to Sear Sound in New York City, Capitol Studios in Los Angeles and, finally, his own Third Man Records Studio in Nashville where he brought on board an array of musicians - many of them strangers, according to Paulson - that helped give the album its random-ish looseness. Diverse musicians, among many others, like bassist Neon Phoenix (who plays in Kanye West's band), drummers Daru Jones and Louis Cato, percussionist Bobby Allende, keyboardist Quincy McCrary and bassist Charlotte Kemp Muhl added to what is an often insanely eccentric album.

But that's precisely the intention.

The 42-year-old provocateur from Detroit, has set out to mess with the heads of his fans as much with his own head with this enjoyably weird 13-song collection... a record that verges in places on the preposterous: the distortion-doused and Captain Beefheart-ish Hypermisophoniac, the spoken-word Ezmerelda Steals the Show, the bonkers country of What's Done Is Done which makes Mick Jagger on Farway Away Eyes sound almost normal.

The McCrary Sisters - Nashville's Christian gospel music quartet - add something to Connected By Love: "The songs that we were doing on this record are so avant-garde, their presence makes it even more avant-garde," White told USA Today. "It really makes you question, 'I don't know what genre this song is any more. Is this punk-gospel-country-new wave? I have no idea!' Which is great. I love the shake-up of that."

You have to admire him, too, for taking chances with such an experimental release.

Of course, White can take his time to do what he likes in the studio: hence the sound and feel of Boarding House Reach; and the fact that it is Jack's first album in four years. His modus operandi is set out on Ice Station Zero with Jack rapping - yes rapping:

'Hear me out, it ain't easy but I'll try to explain/Everything in the world gets labelled and named/A box, a rough definition, unavoidable Who picked the label doesn't want to be responsible/Truth, you're the warden, here's the keys to the prison You create your own box, you don't have to listen/To any of the label makers, printing your obituary just to name a few they are not afraid to experiment try something out of the box and they make it work/The world is a better place due to artists like this!'

To quote a song by The Reynolds Girls from 1989, I'd rather Jack than Fleetwood Mac.

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