The Willy Wonka of rock is back with a new record.
Jack White’s career is already among the most legendary in rock music. From his work in The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, his solo work, and of course his work with Meg White in The White Stripes, Jack White has helped push garage rock and blues rock back into the rock zeitgeist. His gnarly guitar tones and virtuosity, as well as his clever lyricism and unique singing has garnered him praise from both casual rock fans and professional critics alike. Hell, he has even done a James Bond theme song with Alicia Keys and has been featured on Beyoncé’s album Lemonade.
After breaking up with The White Stripes, Jack White released his first two solo albums, Blunderbuss and Lazaretto, which saw White bringing together blues rock, garage rock, and country rock with a new blue, black, and white aesthetic. These two albums saw considerable acclaim from both fans and music publications and spawned some of his best and most popular songs like “Lazaretto” and “Freedom at 21.”
However, that acclaim quickly turned to extreme polarization with his third album Boarding House Reach. His most experimental and weird record by a few laps, the album experimented with drum machines, synths, funk and progressive rock, as well as off-kilter uses of background singers and guitars. The album divided both critics and listeners, with some thinking that Jack White was ready to dump the garage rock sound entirely and dive completely into experimental blues rock for the unseeable future.
Understanding the reaction of Boarding House Reach is crucial when analyzing White’s newest album Fear of the Dawn. The first of two albums being released by White this year, Fear of the Dawn is undeniably a compromise between the bizarre and electronically-tinged Boarding House Reach and the rootsier blues rock records of Blunderbuss and Lazaretto. This is evident right away with the first song on the album “Taking Me Back”, an absolutely sun-scorched guitar rager that sounds like Lazaretto if it had the distortion turned up to 11. The synths and sound design of the song bring back BHR experimentation and blend it with classic Jack White riffing.
Fear of the Dawn continues the crazy rock songs with the title track, a very strange and extremely fuzzy trip into hard rock. The fried guitars are not too dissimilar to a metal song and the touches of theremin paint the picture of White rocking out in the remains of a post-apocalyptic and drought-driven Earth. “The White Raven” sounds like “Blue Orchid” if that White Stripes song had more of a dark edge, as Jack White sings with a gritty and punky inflection and plays guitar with an intensity à la a chainsaw.
Then, there is the most insane song I have heard this entire year, “Hi-De-Ho.” Featuring rapper Q-Tip of the iconic group A Tribe Called Quest, it is by far one of the most bizarre songs Jack White has ever released. The weeping guitars in the intro transitions into a sample of Cam Calloway’s song “Hi De Ho Man'', then into a bluesy rap rock song featuring Q-Tip, sounding just as lively as ever. The song then switches to a flamenco-like acoustic trip with swirling synths panning left to right, then ending with Jack White spouting gibberish. Frankly, I still do not know how to feel about it.
“Eosophobia”, which is the phobia of daylight or dawn, is definitely one of my favorite songs from Fear as it brings a smooth bass and guitar line for a vibe more in tune with indie-rock, then switches to a dubby piece of math rock at its finish. “What’s The Trick?” is classic White Stripes down to its heavy guitars and drums, but the real stand out of the song is Jack White himself, as his vocal inflection makes him sound like he is on the verge of losing his voice. The song also contains one of my favorite lyrics from the album: “I’m using appropriate compression for / My inappropriate confessions for / Someone I guess who might need it more.”
My favorite song off the album is “That Was Then, This is Now.” An extremely fun and energetic piece of garage rock, it sounds like it could have been straight off of White Blood Cells with its simple but aggressive drumming and its ascending descending guitar line, as well as the song’s zany drum breaks and its post-punk revival bridge. “Shedding My Velvet” is the nocturnal final song off the album, featuring trip-hop drums and moody guitar and saloon pianos. It is definitely a dark and swampy ending to the album and the song leaves Fear on a high note.
Although Blunderbuss is my personal favorite Jack White record, Fear of the Dawn is definitely a close second. Whereas his experimentation on Boarding House Reach went a little too out of his comfort zone, Fear strikes a good balance between tinkery and basics and sees White entering an exciting new path in his career, one that I can't wait to see continue with his next album coming this year.