The wait is over, my friends. The man of a million side-projects, minimalist palettes, and so-called savior of vinyl, Jack White, has returned with new music under his own name for the first time since 2014’s Lazaretto.
After hinting for a few months about releasing a third solo album — going so far as to classify his new material to Gary Oldman in Interview Magazine as “good gardening music or roofing music or, you know, back-alley stabbing music” — White officially announced the name of his third record: Boarding House Reach. Despite withholding a precise release date, Jack offered fans not one but two new singles along with a music video — “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander.”
Both new tracks, while wildly sonically different, almost immediately embody everything we already know about Jack White. This guy’s got soul, he feels the blues, and he’s not afraid to tinker with an effects pedal or synth if he needs to. “Connected By Love,” the seemingly A-side single, combines slow-burning bluesy verses and vaguely Blade Runner synth effects with an explosive chorus to create one of those good ole fashioned rock songs.
White bears his whole heart on his sleeve, singing to the unnamed “woman” that frequently pops up in his work, and admitting, “Forgive me, and save me / From myself / Don’t forsake me, woman / And go and choose somebody else.” A church organ backs a very Jack-White-sounding guitar solo wry with Icky Thump-era pedal effects all as a soulful choir repeats the refrain of “we’re connected / we’re connected!”
Essentially, it’s a song with a lot going on, but it somehow all works. Traditional harmonies and familiar chord progressions work to create a rip-roaring confession of passion and heart in a way that feels real and fresh. This is the type of work Jack White fans have been waiting for.
The music video for “Connected By Love” suits the song well, adding an additional layer of stress, paranoia, and desire. Filmed through a slightly desaturated lens, the video shows diverse faces around the world taking in news of “an object from space coming closer to earth.” Impending doom seems imminent, but people take it in stride. White’s call of “Cause I know / we’re connected / yes, I know,” creates an urgency that definitely moves it into a modern political place. It might feel like everything is ending, but at least we have each other, connected by love.
Meanwhile, “Respect Commander,” the B-side to “Connected By Love,” lacks restraint, takes chances with experimentation, and invites an intimacy that can only be described as sounding like it was recorded in White’s detached garage. While the production of “Connected By Love” is purposeful and hand-crafted, “Respect Commander” has a punky scrappiness evocative of early White Stripes’ records. If anything, the track sounds like someone left the recording button on while White and his buddies started garage-band-jammin’.
The strength of “Respect Commander” comes in its unassuming pretense; it makes you think it’s fooling you with its free-form guitar, raw snare, and seemingly random synth blips. But the song knows exactly what it’s doing. With sparse lyrics, White’s voice comes in at the halfway mark, every word finely chosen: “She commands my respect / […] And I cannot protect / My heart from her command.”
Looped effects, dirty guitar, and smartly-used synth that sounds less like generic 80’s tones and more like Windows computer echoes (really) combine to make a raw and experimental number evocative of Lazaretto’s near-wordless “High Ball Stepper.” The guitar has a mind of its own, the drums sound like nothing but pure wood against raw skin, and I am on-board for every second of it.
Jack White has the guts to do what so few rock musicians can these days: put out thoughtful, unapologetic, and unadulterated true rock ‘n’ roll. It’s an honest testament to the depth of his skill how different “Connected By Love” and “Respect Commander” sound, and only increase the anticipation for Boarding House Reach. Rock ‘n’ roll is in good hands in 2018 with Jack White at the helm.
“Connected By Love” Rating: 9/10
“Respect Commander” Rating: 8/10
Jack White’s new singles are currently available on a digital platform, and can be purchased on limited edition vinyl via Third Man Records