NEW YORK (AFP) - Jack White really doesn't want to be known just as that sometimes abrasive guy who plays high-decibel guitar.
Singer and guitarist Jack White performs on stage on the third day of the Eurockeennes' festival, in the French eastern city of Belfort. (AFP / Sebastien Bozon)/
On a sprawling and unapologetically weird new album, White dabbles with UFO-esque synthesizer effects, sings gleefully about robbing banks and covers a tune by that lesser-known songwriter Al Capone.
"Boarding House Reach," the former White Stripes frontman's first album in four years, veers into funk, electro, gospel and blues as White defiantly demonstrates his range.
White's third solo album starts off in comparatively tame territory with "Connected by Love," a sure crowd-pleaser with his signature fuzzy guitar empowered by a gospel backdrop.
White quickly finds a fresh portal in his mind with "Why Walk a Dog?," a rumination on humans' relationship with their proverbial best friends.
"Corporation" opens with a distant echo of the White Stripes' now-classic "Seven Nation Army" riff before turning funky with conga drums in the back as White vows, with tongue-in-cheek gusto, to aspire to the capitalist dream.
Soon White seems to be daring to be reined in. On "Hypermisophoniac," White explores his distaste for someone's dental noises as trippy, space-like synthesizers swing back and forth like a yo-yo.
White's guitar then kicks in over piano as he sings with nonchalance, "Ain't nowhere to run / When you're robbin' the bank."
- New artistic freedom -
The 42-year-old Detroit native, identifiable for his chin-length swoop of black hair that belies his fair complexion and infamous for off-stage flarings of temper, in the late 1990s led the revival of garage rock with its raw, rough-around-the-edges energy.
On "Boarding House Reach," White offers hints that he knows he will be accused of self-indulgence. One track, recited in spoken word by Australian blues artist C.W. Stoneking, is entitled "Abulia and Akrasia," the latter a classical Greek term for lack of self-control.
After two decades of success, White apparently can afford artistic freedom. He has founded his own label, Third Man Records, with a headquarters in Nashville and a major new vinyl pressing plant in Detroit.
For a five-month tour in support of the album, White -- annoyed, like so many, at the constant distractions in modern-day concerts -- will require fans to leave their phones at the door.
In an interview in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, White seemed to fantasize about a long-dead music industry in which powerful executives could stop his ideas.
"'Hey, the label won't let you do that,'" he told the magazine, adding, "What cool problems to have!"
- Softer side to Scarface -
White closes "Boarding House Reach" with a song written by none other than Al Capone when the notorious gangster was imprisoned on Alcatraz.
Showing an unexpectedly sentimental side to the Chicago crime boss nicknamed Scarface, "Humoresque" reminisces about lighter moments outside of prison.
"If the children are dancing / Lovers are all romancing / Is it any wonder everyone is singing?" White sings to a gentle jazz arrangement.
Capone was said to have performed the song on banjo as part of an inmate band, taking a melody of Dvorak. The sheet music was sold at an auction last year -- to an anonymous bidder.
White seems to sum up his manic new musical mishmash of an album on "Ice Station Zebra," a funky track on which he gives nearly a rap delivery as he bemoans the need to classify the world with labels.
"If Joe Blow says, 'Yo, you paint like Caravaggio' / You'll respond, 'No, that's an insult, Joe / I live in a vacuum / I ain't coppin' no one.'"