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‘Boarding House Reach’ review: Jack White’s ambitious success

Jack White's "Boarding House Reach" is on Third

Jack White's "Boarding House Reach" is on Third Man Records. Credit: Third Man

JACK WHITE

“Boarding House Reach”

BOTTOM LINE Wildly ambitious rock that works almost every time.

Jack White’s “Boarding House Reach” (Third Man / Columbia) sounds crazy on paper.

His third solo album assembles bits of rock, blues, jazz, funk, synth pop, prog rock, country and spoken word into fascinating experiments that sound like Kanye West crossed with Radiohead or Merle Haggard joining Depeche Mode or, you know, ludicrous. However, White makes nearly all of it work. He’s created ambition you can dance to, spoken word poetry that rocks.

In other words, White is crazy like a fox.

Maybe it’s no surprise that the guy who helped Beyoncé go country or Loretta Lynn find a hard-rocking comeback has decided to do some genre-crossing of its own.

But that doesn’t come close to explaining “Corporation,” which starts out as a funk jam studded with Led Zeppelin-like riffs for three minutes before flowing into a spoken-word rant. “I’m thinking about starting a corporation,” White says like a preacher at Sunday services. “Who’s with me? Nowadays, that’s how you get adulation.”

In “Ice Station Zero,” he moves from rapping like Will Smith in “Parents Just Don’t Understand” to something more Beck-like as he declares, “The players and the cynics will be thinking it’s hard, but if you rewind the tape, we’re all copying God,” as he preaches against labeling art.

Even when White scales back, he is still pushing boundaries. “What’s Done Is Done” seems like a country weeper, but it’s layered over some wobbly synths that gives it a dreamlike quality, as it devolves into a murderous threat. “Connected by Love” may sound traditional in comparison, but its intricacies still make it drift from latter-day White Stripes to a bit of Leonard Cohen-like call-and-response.

In the hands of a lesser musician, all these ambitions would be impossible to corral, but White bends them to his will, building “Boarding House Reach” into something uniquely beautiful.

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