Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 35: Jack White “Boarding House Reach” (2018)

The 35th set of exclusive vinyl items offered to Platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service was mailed out to the members in March of 2018. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its Platinum members every three months.

The 35th Vault package consisted of a limited edition vinyl LP variant of Jack White’s third solo album, Boarding House Reach, and a 7-inch single with early demos of two of the album’s tracks. The 180-gram LP was pressed in blue-and-black-swirled vinyl, and comes with an exclusive insert containing the lyrics, as well as three exclusive David Swanson photographs from the album’s recording sessions. The Vault-only cover art depicts White’s face in futuristic fashion, printed on holographic foil paper.

Boarding House Reach marks a radical new musical direction for this artist. If White’s previous solo album (Lazaretto from 2014) found him moving his music closer to the modern era from his usual blues basics, then Boarding House Reach proceeds to blast him forward all the way to the present day, if not into the future. White told Rolling Stone magazine that he wanted to “take punk, hip-hop and rock & roll, and funnel it all into a 2018 time capsule". To help accomplish this, he enlisted many musicians from the hip-hop community, and made unexpectedly prominent use of synthesizers.

The album's first two tracks, “Connected By Love” and “Why Walk A Dog?”, suggest that White has been listening to modern alternative rock. The first track resembles something by Muse or the Cold War Kids, and – don’t tell Jack I said this, but – the latter track reminds me very much of the Black Keys. Other tracks suggest updated ‘70’s-style funk with a Parliament feel. “Corporation” – in which White says he wants to start one, and repeatedly asks “Who’s with me?” – recalls both George Clinton and Stevie Wonder. “Get In The Mind Shaft” is an especially George Clinton-esque piece of space-age funk, only identifiable as a Jack White song because of his spoken-word intro. And “Over And Over And Over” is an aborted White Stripes song that Jack finally completed for this album, adding Parliament-like effects to the song’s driving Stripes-like fuzz riff.

Other tracks are equally experimental in nature. “Ice Station Zebra” is a Beck-like concoction that mixes hip-hop, r&b grooves, vaguely Metallica-like drum beats, and spacey Theremin-like sounds into one heady stew. Speaking of Beck, the strange synth-driven “Hypermisophoniac” is about as Beck-like as anything not recorded by Beck himself. “Respect Commander” somehow houses '80's-style synth-pop and Zeppelin-esque blues-rock under one roof. The album also offers an unexpected pair of psych-folk poetry readings (“Esmerelda Steals The Show”, “Abulia And Akrasia”) reminiscent of late-‘60’s progressive rock.

“What’s Done Is Done” sounds as though it could have been written as a roots-rock song that the Band might have recorded, but it’s modernized by White’s synth-based production and arrangements. After all of those futuristic flourishes, it seems like an odd touch to end the album with a seemingly straight-faced rendering of the 1894 Antonín Dvořák piano composition “Humoresque”, with lyrics that were added by Howard Johnson in the 1930’s.

True to its title, which refers to an old expression about reaching across the table for food instead of asking others to pass it, Boarding House Reach finds Jack White reaching far and wide for revolutionary new sounds, not worried at all about alienating those who would prefer that he stick to more primitive blues basics. It’s a bold, bizarre, and rewarding musical adventure in space.

As a lover of vinyl records, I would have been happy to report that this vinyl Vault edition of Boarding House Reach was preferable to digital formats. However, the album’s futuristic, technology-based sound lends itself much better to digital media. On vinyl, the music somehow sounds less than three-dimensional, and its impact is diminished. However, I do prefer the cover art of the Vault issue to that of the regular release. The standard Boarding House Reach cover art is reminiscent of ‘70’s prog album covers, and not in the best way. The Vault issue’s cover art features a holographic sci-fi image of Jack White’s face that better suits the music inside. Also, the blue-and-black-swirl-colored vinyl is another visual asset. At first glance, I thought it was pressed in plain black vinyl, until I held it up to the light.

The 7-inch single, pressed in bolder blue vinyl with black streaks, contains early demo versions of the album’s first two tracks, “Connected By Love” and “Why Walk A Dog?”. The original title of the former was “Infected By Love” – which White understandably changed so that it would not be mistaken for a song about an STD. The minute-and-a-half-long “Infected By Love” demo, recorded in a rented Nashville apartment, reveals that the song’s synthesizer sound was intended from the early stages. We hear Jack singing over its basic foundation only, the same synth foundation used in the finished song. The “Why Walk A Dog?” demo uses the same type of electronic drum beat as the finished version; its difference lies in its harsher and less varied synth background noise.

Although the Boarding House Reach album itself is recommended, there is no need for most people to spend big bucks on the Vault version. Aside from the cover art and the 7-inch demo single, the package’s other exclusive items are a 12” X 24” insert containing the song lyrics (omitting the ones for “Get In The Mind Shaft”), three poetry broadsides printing the spoken-word lyrics from three of the songs, three David Swanson photographs taken during the recording sessions, and a Third Man Records challenge coin that doubles as a 45 turntable adaptor.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The LP has “If you don’t like this” carved in Side A, and “I don’t know what to tell you” carved in Side B. The 7-inch single has “Insected by glove” carved in Side A, and “Why not” carved in Side B.

Jack White - Boarding House Reach

Jack White “Boarding House Reach” (Third Man TMR-540) 2018

Track Listing:


1. Connected By Love
2. Why Walk A Dog?
3. Corporation
4. Abulia and Akrasia
5. Hypermisophoniac
6. Ice Station Zebra


7. Over and Over and Over
8. Everything You’ve Ever Learned
9. Respect Commander
10. Ezmerelda Steals The Show
11. Get In The Mind Shaft
12. What’s Done Is Done
13. Humoresque

Jack White “Infected By Love (Demo)” b/w “Why Walk A Dog? (Demo)” (Third Man single TMR542) 2018

a. Infected By Love (demo)
b. Why Walk A Dog? (demo)

Reviews of other Third Man Vault packages