Jack White, “Boarding House Reach” (Third Man)
For his third solo album, Jack White, the mad scientist of rock, got out of his comfort zone. Mind you, his comfort zone would make a lot of musicians go insane.
White recorded in New York and Los Angeles for the first time and sought out musicians he hadn’t worked with before — some he hadn’t ever even met. Then he listened to what happened.
“Boarding House Reach” is the result and it’s thrilling stuff, but more than a little disorienting. White’s trademark yowl and fuzzy guitar are firmly in place but then, suddenly, there might be a conga drum solo. Or a synth riff. Or a face-melting distorted chorus. You quickly get the sense that this is what the inside of Jack White’s head sounds like.
The 13-track Frankenstein-like album doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s like a jolt of electricity, mixing hip-hop, gospel, blues, country and hard rock. “Forgive me and save me from myself,” White warns us in one lyric.
The successes include the funky, hard-rocking tunes “Over and Over and Over” and “Corporation.” ”Ice Station Zebra” is brilliant, but in bizarre way. Many of the album’s best moments are drum-led, extended propulsive riffs, like on “Respect Commander.”
White’s collaborators include drummer Louis Cato, bassists Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Neon Phoenix, and keyboardists Neal Evans and Quincy McCrary. They’ve helped him make the weirdest album of his career. The lyrics are as oddball as the music, going from quoting the baby book “Goodnight Moon” to name-checking Italian luxury carmaker Isotta Fraschini.
Some of the experiments should probably have been left for some future box set of outtakes dedicated to crazed White fans, including “Abulia and Akrasia,” in which singer-songwriter C.W. Stoneking adds silly spoken-word verses. “Get In the Mind Shaft” is clumsy, albeit fascinating.
There’s a good song somewhere in “Hypermisophoniac” but it’s drowned out by about three others. There’s really no song in “Everything You’ve Ever Learned” and “Ezmerelda Steals the Show” is, as one line goes, “totally absurd.”
White dips into country on “What’s Done Is Done,” but it seems more like he’s mocking the genre this time. He swipes melody from Antonin Dvorak for the final tune, “Humoresque,” as if classical music was one more thing he wanted to mess with.
God bless, Jack White. And also save us from him, too.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits