Review: ‘Boarding House Reach’ gets philosophical

Rock musician Jack White has released his third solo studio album, Boarding House Reach, nearly four years after his previous solo release Lazaretto. Compared to 2012’s Blunderbuss and Lazaretto, which contained a traditional rock and roll/alternative sound and more twangy production, respectively, Boarding House Reach takes on a fusion of funky-electro and gospel influences.

Jack White’s third studio album Boarding House Reach is more reflective than his previous work, with tracks that feature spoken word lyrics and a thoughtful, somber tone. Photo courtesy of Third Man Records.

Stylistically, Boarding House Reach is not unlike White’s previous solo albums, but White switches it up by incorporating vocal effects and spoken word tracks. Instead of focusing on an overall upheaval, White chose to make new thematic and lyrical choices on the album, reflecting on his observations of it. Perhaps for White, it’s not so much about changing his sound with each album, but about reflecting on new trials and tribulations in his life.

On almost the entirety of  Boarding House Reach’s 44 minutes and seven seconds, White attempts to impart wisdom on his listeners, and share his existential and philosophical realizations. His messages range from alluding to the Greek myth of Sisyphus and struggles with anxiety on “Over and Over and Over,” to urging listeners not to dress up their pets  on “Why Walk a Dog?” Elsewhere, White observes how people are missing out on experiencing the world due to an obsession with cell phones and technology, a message that shines through  on “Ezmerelda Steals the Show.”   

Even in songs that lack clear philosophical messages, White’s vocal delivery and choice to opt for spoken word poetry instead of traditional rhyme schemes prove that he’s really trying to speak out on this record. He also adopts a somewhat preachy tone throughout the album, with the spoken word style resembling sermons on songs like “Everything You’ve Ever Learned,”  “Abulia and Akrasia” and “Ezmerelda Steals the Show.” 

The songs that stand out the most are “Over and Over and Over,” “Corporation” and “Humoresque.” “Over and Over and Over” is one of the more traditional rock and roll songs of the album, but despite the grittier instrumentation, this track offers probably some of the most personal lyrics of the album. Lyrics like “And I’m punished for the passion / Only telling cause you’re asking” and “I think, therefore I die / Anxiety and I, rolling down a mountain” evidence this sentiment, using poetic devices to connect with the listener.

“Corporation” is by far the most danceable track on Boarding House Reach. Although the instrumentation is quite catchy, White’s lyrics reveal a sign of the times: “Yeah, I’m thinking about starting a corporation. Who’s with me? Nowadays, that’s how you get adulation.”

The jazzy, piano-backed tune of “Humoresque” stands out from the rest of the album not only instrumentally, but also because it is the only track not written by White on the album. The song actually was written by Chicago mobster Al Capone while he was serving his sentence in Alcatraz, and White anonymously bid on the sheet music to use the music for himself.

White’s implementation of newer techno sounds and effects on Boarding House Reach has more significance than just trying new things musically, serving as a fitting soundscape for his newer lyrical content. Throughout, he makes a profound statement about society and technology, in relation to his own perception of the world. In some ways, he does it more sneakily (behind catchy guitar riffs) and other times he directly says how he feels (in the mellow instrumentation of the spoken word recordings). But no matter his technique, on Boarding House Reach, White is heard loud and clear.