Tone Deaf: What Does the Program Director Listen to?

Jack White performing at 2012’s Lollapalooza. /Shane Hirschman, via Flickr.com

Boarding House Reach,” released on March 23, 2018, is a hell of a ride. Though it’s musically all right, God is it strange. There are simply too many artistic and musical ideas floating around. The utter diversity and constant quality is truly something that is unrivaled in many of the recent releases.

Glam rock, progressive funk, fusion jazz, memphis blues, harsh spoken word, skits, sound core; describing what genres this album doesn’t play with seems to be the easier task. Sometimes it works, like in “Over and Over” which plays like a Dead Kennedys song in their prime, but for others it seems to completely dissolved, “Get in the Mind Shaft” being an example. Even though the adventure through robo-funk space-time into White’s mind and past sound pretty decent in the middle, and like it belongs on the B-Sides of Thundercats “Drunk,” this jam just doesn’t work with all of the generes and sounds it explores.

As a American musician, singer, songwriter, producer, and small time actor, Jack White is most popularly known as the lead singer and guitarist of since disbanded duo, The White Stripes. Both his first and second solo albums received wide praise, and now, four years later, we have been presented a third studio album in a aluminum painted gold platter.

The album explores a medley of topics, ranging from the greed of corporations to why we keep pets? Maybe? “Ice Station Zebra” is a dosey, we’ll revisit it later. Regardless it doesn’t quite sound like White is having fun anymore. Jack White, the boy wonder, seems to have lost his spark. Instead of the enthusiasm we heard in “Lazzaretto,” we get a water down version, like White is holding back in some way.

Even in explosive opener, Connected by Love,” White seems to holding back, not truly belting out the notes nor truly ripping at the guitar like he once did.

Each song after is its own special type of bizarre, with lyrical absurdity seems so be a running theme throughout this unusual album. Specifically when White wants to explore spoken word, like in “Everything You’ve Ever Learned” where he comes off weirdly pretentious spoken word.

“Why Walk a Dog” is truly almost laughable. For a second, it seemed like there could’ve been something substantial lyrically there, but after repeated listens it’s still equivalent in to the rambling of Neil Young about the circus in his last album. The difference here is only that White is annoyed with our need to keep and bred animals? And also doesn’t like some celebrities?

Now let’s revisit “Ice Station Zebra”. This tune sounds like if the bastard child that the Red Hot Chili Peppers and System Of a Down was put up, and then was adopted by The Cramps. Seriously. Like the most other songs in this collection, it’s musically okay. Funk and jazz battle to gain more ground and influence, giving and taking, but it breaks down before it gets anywhere.

Other tracks throughout show more potential and artistic talent. Through the bongos and distorted amplified screams “Corporation” leaves space to bob one’s head through most of the absurdity. As does the experimental gospel choir “Over and Over.”

It’s clear that the sounds in this album are heavily influenced by White’s recent collaborations with Hip-hop artist, ranging from Jay-Z to a Tribe Called Quest. This album had weight at first listen, but after two or three more and a little poking around, the holes shown clear and true.

The album as a whole sound like what White described in “Get in the Mind Shaft,” his younger self working on something good but he’s not quite there yet. It sounds like he’s still trying to bang together those three notes. One can only hope that he gets it the next time around.

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