Emulating Julian Casablancas of The Strokes was only natural for Jack White, when you think about it. In the “Seven Nation Army” video which for some reason I’d never watched before a second ago, he even looks a little like him, that mop cut, a suave, milky complexion and sort of innocent, little-boy but still distant, facial expression.
White’s new album Boarding House Reach, which right away booms in as way fresher and pleasingly jumpier than the median garage-rock retreads Blunderbuss and Lazaretto, then, is like his transition to Casablancas “Voidz” and Phrazes for the Young territory. Four-and-a-half minute minute opener “Connected by Love,” which never stagnates or becomes stale, leads off with this rich, syrupy and percussionless reverb loop very becoming of the Bowie type, makeup-adorned glam album cover. Track two “Why Walk a Dog?” literally features programmed drums all by themselves at the onset (White himself is the producer), but a certain mastery ducts the little dalliance into something compelling — there’s an uneven balance of the kicks which is coupled with this revivifying echo effect on the snare, to give the computerized intro a sense of the alive. Musically, “Why Walk a Dog?”, again, is so far from radio-rock mundanity, veering toward the type of dramatic pop of which only a seasoned elder of songwriting would be capable, save for a couple of phenoms like Julia Holter, Glasser and Mr. Little Jeans. Think of Annie Lennox’s damaged tour de force Diva, after she was done with The Eurythmics.
Either way, we have hereby, without a doubt, witnessed within Jack White a complete musical renaissance, and similar to how his gaze in “Seven Nation Army” was so laddy and benign, he sings on these songs like somebody incapable of the kind of subterfuge or deceit that often pervades our culture. None of the themes here, even, are about conquest or superiority of any sort — rather than having won over his special one, he is with said special one “connected by love,” torn then to shreds by life’s little obligations like walking a dog, similar to a frustrated boy whose neurotic platitudes are usurped only by his chops in penning a pop song.
With in mind the celestial heights to which “I’m Lonely (But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet)” was capable of propelling me if I listened to it stoned (this is the piano ballad which caps off Get behind Me Satan by White’s old band The White Stripes), I went into Boarding House Reach hoping that it wouldn’t be too guitar-dominated, that it would have a certain texture, roundness and conscious about it to combat what would otherwise be a sort of virtuosic boorishness on that axe. Well, the first two songs more than satiated that plaint, so it’s ironic in a sense that “Corporation” is made awesome by… well, a giant deluge of stupid guitar blips. There is though this sort of preternaturally alive sort of fanfare cloaking this whole celebration, nonetheless, as if White truly has something to SHARE, as if, along with unveiling music which often acts as a mechanism for celebration, he has also simultaneously found a CAUSE for celebration too. Again, it opens with programmed drums — this is his electro-pop baby all the way, and I was fully ready to gnash my teeth and go put on something defiantly organic like Tom Waits, but about half a minute into “Corporation” you forget that that beat even IS the progeny of computer programming, because there’s this dual guitar pattern with a head and an a** — a baritone leg so low you will think you’re listening to Parliament Funkadelic. In this spirit, “Corporation” takes wheels as a genuinely well-balanced and full little workout.
Its true face, though, reveals itself as anything but “little” when White’s vocals come in about the three-minute mark within the five-plus product, sounding crazily, entertainingly coked up and crazy and atonally saying “I’m thinkin’ about startin’ a corporation / Who’s with me? / Nowadays that’s how you get adulation”. It’s quintessentially American music, obviously, crazy in the way that Isaac Brock is, musically not as good as “Float on” but recombinant of every bit the raving and undeniably rhythmic swagger in order to catch fire in this country and hence all over the world. Then, you might say it’s ironic that White’s employing that same English accent he does on “The Union Forever,” but that’s in a way beside the point — this is still bona fide dance pop.
Or is it garage rock? Or is it RUMP SHAKING ARUGULA? Asking these questions, now as it will be all year, is part of the fun of Boarding House Reach. Now, part of me is tempted, especially since just two days ago I got this Rolling Stone at my door with White on the cover looking very drugged up with a blue background, to research on why he would call his album this, but I think I’ll ignore the background story altogether — the music he’s creating here, for the first time since Icky Thump, is enough of a story in and of itself.
Appropriately, given the magnanimity both temporally and affectively of “Corporation,” little sub-two-minute “Abulia and Akrasia” follows, a sort of rhythmless vaudeville descent into a drunken string-and-piano swoon. It’s got somebody dictating these big words like a political speech, words like “irascible” and “abdicate,” although it’s probably ironic postmodern poetry written by White, to parody the sort of subterfuge which, again, White on this project seems wholly incapable, or rather uninterested.
Adjacenty, on “Hypermisophoniac,” White continues to eschew the simplistic despite apparently creating these beats himself on Fruity Loops, breaking the eyes with this sort of whip-quick and crackly percussion technique which I think might be the guiro (or guiro replica), the instrument Bowie or his industry suckup producer or whoever used in “The Man Who Sold the World.” The real prime time players here though are a swirling, almost non-melodic mood giving this funky, apocalyptic feel, and then these obnoxious computer-blippy sounds which will make you think of the Dust Brothers project “He** Yes” on Beck’s album Guero.
But then, part of the feather in Boarding House Reach’s cap, along these lines, is sequencing. It never mires in stylistic stasis like Is This is? and White Blood Cells might have (though to be sure, that was kind of their whole point in the first place, an almost absurd garage-rock bareness to make defiant the gutty songwriting knack at play). Things remain fresh throughout with texture, rhythm, funky effects like echo and balancing, but most importantly, a lot of good ol‘ fashion American craziness.