Anybody who thinks rock is irrelevant in 2018 hasn’t told Jack White. White has been one of the preeminent rock figures of the 21st century for having brought the long forgotten Detroit rock sound back to the public’s attention. Now that he has taken up residence in Nashville, he has gravitated towards expanding and emboldening the roots of blues and rock. With "Boarding House Reach," his first solo album in almost four years, White proves that he is thinking differently than most rock musicians nowadays. Whether it’s banning phones from his concerts or dismantling hopes of a reunion with his band The White Stripes, White proves that not caring what others think of you gives you freedom to go in directions you always wanted to explore.
The album's opening track, “Connected By Love,” starts out with blaring synths followed by drum beats and anthem-style vocals, making White reminiscent of Imagine Dragons. Where White diverges throughout “Boarding House Reach” is his commitment to the blues. On songs like “Corporation” and “Ice Station Zebra,” White keeps the music attached to his own musical inspirations. It’s refreshing to occasionally see someone call back to the classic side of rock.
That being said, White still makes musical and production choices that seem totally out of left field for him. The use of drum machines and samples seems like a stretch for someone who has been known not to see much in electronic music, but apparently White has changed his tune, as he incorporates synths in to most of his songs. In the most bonkers track, “Get In the Mind Shaft,” White has vocoder vocals that sound like if Daft Punk had grown up on gospel. At the end, White asks the listener in a computerized voice, “Can you hear me now?” as if we haven’t already been carefully listening to him this whole time.
White, with all he’s accomplished, has reached a musical level that is seen as a placeholder for ultimate success. His experience, drive and newfound desire for fresher ideas has made White release a solid, consistent album that holds to traditional rock values while also going near the edge of something that only he is aware of. White is on the right path to forge a potent statement that a majority of people can find familiar, but for now, he sort of gets muffled in his expression of the music. There’s nothing wrong with White being unclear — it makes for great music — but it just doesn’t make the listener care too much about the message.
I would give this album a B. “Boarding House Reach” offers listeners a taste of a legend who is on his quest for doing whatever he wants. With White’s three solo albums, he has gone for a blue color palette, instead of the red ones he had done for The White Stripes’ albums. The man who looks to the past to help with his music always seems ready to start over whenever he sees fit. “Boarding House Reach” will probably gain popularity as time goes on, depending on what White decides to do later on. This could be considered a grand experiment or a major breakthrough; either way, you can’t go wrong.