Jack White: Boarding House Reach

This is as radical, experimental and mind-expanding of a pop album as you’re likely to hear anytime soon.

Jack White
Boarding House Reach
(Third Man/Columbia)
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

“Hello, welcome to everything you’ve ever learned,” sings Jack White on his first new album in nearly four years. And he’s not kidding. Listening to it is like watching a twisty, multi-part Netflix series; you don’t know where it’s going but you’re transfixed nonetheless.

Of course, the eclectic, unpredictable White has typically eluded artistic roadmaps. Still, the abrupt, often startling changes in direction on this 13-track opus will give White’s most ardent fans a thrill ride and whiplash those less attuned to his whims.

From the opening throbbing synth bass lines of the bluesy, widescreen single “Connected By Love,” to the Zeppelin guitar riff that’s here then gone, supported by a drum loop on the gonzo “Respect Commander,” the spoken-word electro-funk of “Get In The Mind Shaft,” and the country duet ballad “What’s Done is Done,” White revels in avoiding expectations. And that’s before the melancholy, stripped-down (piano, muted bass, acoustic guitar and brushed drums) closer “Humoresque” that White heard through a musical manuscript from Al Capone. About the only thread connecting these tunes is his voice, and even that shapeshifts as it hopscotches between selections.

The temptation is to accuse White of throwing everything — including jazz/hip-hop/funk on “Ice Station Zebra” — at the wall to see what sticks. But he’s too smart, interesting, curious and compelling of an artist to be dismissed with that cliché. Rather, songs such as the head-spinning “Hypermisophoniac” (as crazed and obtuse as its title which may have something to do with “robbing a bank”) grab your ears and won’t let go. When he rocks out with White Stripes abandon on the aggressive riff-driven “Over And Over Again,” Zappa-styled backing vocals with percolating percussion take us someplace we aren’t expecting.

In many ways, this is as radical, experimental and mind-expanding of a pop album as you’re likely to hear anytime soon, let alone by a festival headlining artist.     

“Who’s with me?” he asks on “Corporation.”

We are.