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Worth a Thousand Words: Boarding House Reach by Jack White

Worth a Thousand Words: Boarding House Reach by Jack White

Boarding House Reach by Jack White (Image retrieved from iTunes-purchased MP3 file)

Boarding House Reach by Jack White (Image retrieved from iTunes-purchased MP3 file)

Boarding House Reach by Jack White:
Connected by Oddity
Released: March 23, 2018
Label: Third Man Records

Let’s talk about Jack White. I admire the man, first and foremost, not only as a musician, but also for the work he’s done in supporting the arts and other humanitarian efforts. After striking off on his own solo career shortly after the White Stripes disbanded, White has been able to create a formidable name for himself separate from his initial success as a musician. With a career that has spanned almost 20 years, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to get to a strange, experimental age in his discography. But is this new work too weird?

Boarding House Reach is Jack White’s third solo album, and to date his most artistically diverse. It’s a weird album, but then again Jack White is kind of a strange fellow anyways. Just look at the concept of The Whites Stripes stage persona; to garner attention, and possibly poke fun at the idea of the ‘family band,’ he created the strange, quasi-incestuous but fictional story of him and his ex-wife, Meg, being a brother-sister act. Now, whether or not he knew that it would rile up critics and supporters all the same, White certainly knew and still knows how to draw attention and a crowd.

Somewhat disjointed, Boarding House Reach delves through all parts of rock music, utilizing everything from gospel to hip-hop, rock to rap. From electronic drum kits and distortion, to pipe organs, electric guitars, and everything in-between, Jack showcases his repertoire and affinity for the odd across this album.

The strongest tracks off this album include “Connected By Love,” “Over and Over and Over,” and “What’s Done is Done,” probably due in part to the fact that these sound like actual rock songs. While some of the other tracks on this record sound like glitchy, experimental excerpts, these tracks feel thought out and well composed. “Connected By Love” connects the world of gospel with rock and roll, as a pipe organ roars alongside White’s guitar, and as a choir belts on in the background; this song has a certain power to it at its highest points. “Over and Over and Over” follows a similar formula, utilizing choral elements again, but this time the guitar gets more of a front seat as White lays down screaming riff after riff.

On the flip side, some of the STRANGEST tracks on this record are the spoken word “Abulia and Akrasia” and “Ezmeralda Steals the Show,” along with “Everything You’ve Ever Learned,” and “Get In the Mind Shaft.” Admittedly, this whole album is odd, to say the least. I’m quite fond of spoken word tracks, so I enjoyed “Abulia and Akrasia” and “Ezmeralda Steals the Show” equally; one could draw comparisons to King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s track “Sam Cherry’s Last Shot” off of their debut album 12 Bar Bruise, or their whole LP Eyes Like the Sky, which featured a gruff-voiced man speaking over Wild West-ish themed tunes. The aforementioned tracks are mostly successful, but there are a couple on this LP that just feel misplaced to me both in their inclusion on the record, and in the content they discuss. Take “Why Walk a Dog?” for example. I think this song is trying to be much deeper than it actually thinks it is. I understand that the whole concept of purchasing an animal may be somewhat cruel when you think about it, but this song is trying to make a point that’s kind of moot. Just look at the second verse of the song:

“Are you their master? Did you buy them at the store? Did they know they were a cure for you to stop being bored? So somebody mated them and took their babies away from them. Stuck a price tag on their nose, and now you’re buying it clothes.”[1]

I get what Jack White is getting at here; it’s a comment on the whole concept of having a pet and the ethics and logic behind that decision, fine. It’s just a silly song that’s making a fuss over something that probably doesn’t need to be worried about, outside of the legitimate work that organizations do to protect animals from abuse and neglect, a truly noble cause. I don’t know him or how he thinks, maybe he’s had a bad experience before in his life in this area, who knows. All in all, it’s just a goofy song in the end.

Another odd song on the record is “Ice Station Zebra,” a hip-hop track with a jazz lounge feel to it. This is another song that, like “Why Walk a Dog?” is trying to convey a message, just look at these lyrics:

“You create your own box, you don't have to listen, to any of the label makers, printing your obituary... we're all copying God. Add your own piece, but the puzzle is God's.”[2]

The belief that we’re our own masters, slaves to no one else, beings with free will, is what is trying to be debated here. Jack then goes on to repeat in telling us that we’re “copying God” for a few more lines, which kind of falls on deaf ears at that point. We get it, it sounds edgy and deep. This is a song about forging your own path, and making something that is uniquely yours, a situation not to dissimilar to what White has delivered to us in the form of this album.

A lot of the material on this album, at its base in the lyrics, is really good, it truly is. The vessel, however, that’s its packaged in is so weirdly assembled and misshaped in some places that, if this metaphorical container were a real one, one might think that it’d be broken and unusable. But it’s not. I don’t want this to be a negative review; if anything, I’m neutral but leaning towards liking the album. With the career that Jack White has enjoyed so far, and the influence he’s had on the guitar and rock as a genre, it’s not surprising that he’d naturally want to branch out and try new things; if you’ve mastered a trade, wouldn’t you try to flip the script too?

[1] Genius. Why Walk a Dog? Lyrics. 23 March 2018. Website. 23 November 2018. <https://genius.com/Jack-white-why-walk-a-dog-lyrics>.

[2] Genius. Ice Station Zebra Lyrics. 23 March 2018. Website. 23 November 2018. <https://genius.com/Jack-white-ice-station-zebra-lyrics>.

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