Fear of the Dawn (Album Review)
Jack White is perhaps the most interesting person in rock ‘n’ roll. He is a producer and owns a record company with a small print publishing branch. In about 25 years, White was a driving force in three rock bands and established a prominent solo career. He is a crucial figure in the vinyl record revival, owning a state-of-the-art record pressing plant in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. Small business owner. Job creator. Grammy winner. He’s already rock royalty. And he’s releasing two full albums of music in 2022. Where then do we position a figure like Jack White? Is he a throwback to a bygone era or a transitional figure into something new? Or are these questions even initiation rites necessary to appreciate his music?
Like Jack White himself, it’s enigmatic. His rise began in 1999 as part of the duo, the White Stripes, with ex-wife Meg White. Their version of garage-rock intensity fused Mississippi blues, folk, country and punk into an alchemical concoction that captivated the rock world. Meg’s shy personality and minimalist drum work were the perfect complement to Jack’s boundless energy and frenetic guitar riffs, resulting in six studio albums, including the 2003 classic, Elephant with the now ubiquitous stadium anthem “Seven Nation Army”. In February 2011, the band announced their amicable breakup on the website of Third Man Records (the independent label founded by Jack White in 2001), citing simply a desire to move away to preserve what the band had already achieved. .
Before the White Stripes ended, Jack White had explored his creative impulses and shared lead vocals in two other bands – the Raconteurs with Brendon Benson (2006 debut) and the Dead Weather with Alison Mosshart (2009 debut) – traversing the landscape of rock ‘n’ roll formula and raw blues and soul respectively. A year after leaving the White Stripes, he’s coming out Blunderbuss (2012), the first of three solo offerings, with Lazaretto (2014) and Repo scope (2018), each of which would reach No. 1 on the charts. Four years later, White is back to release two new solo albums—fear of dawn on April 8, 2022 and Enter alive in paradise July 22, 2022.
The two calendar year albums allude to some of the multitudes that White contains within himself. On the one hand, it is a testament to his prolific creativity and fearlessness in experimentation. On the other hand, like much of White’s personality, it’s a throwback to the early days of rock when producers and studios required artists to deliver two albums a year, a time firmly entrenched in much of the world. industry mirror. But still the persona of the renaissance, Jack White is the producer, studio owner, and artist rolled into one industry juggernaut. He is, to use a quote from Jay-Z, “a businessman”.
White explained to Hanif Abdurraqib on a recent object of sound podcast that when the pandemic stopped touring as an option, White took a decade-plus hiatus from writing and performing music and channeled himself into other pursuits. When he resumed music, songs started coming out and two albums emerged. Where previous solo efforts have blended the frenzied intensity of White’s electric guitar prowess with more reflective acoustic numbers, the double offering in 2022 will separate those styles into understated albums. The first of two versions, fear of dawn, is a barrage of intense rock sound from start to finish and could very well be Jack White’s best solo production to date.
fear of dawn grabs the listener by the lapels and does not let go for 12 songs. The album is a tricky affair filigree with what The Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins recently identified on his YouTube series as Jack White’s proprietary formula, providing harmonic information to songs primarily through his vocals. and his guitar work. But this is not a bare bones affair. The package contains vocal and guitar effects, gender blur, layered vocals, organs and synths, and idiosyncratic lyrical themes.
fear of dawn opens with “Taking Me Back”, a guitar-centric rocker whose acoustic and country version should end Enter alive in paradise. The song’s implicit themes of a fractured relationship, separated homes, and negotiating mail forwarding, vacations, and children raise an early question: “Is this Jack White’s midlife crisis record? ” Like the 46-year-old songwriter himself, it’s elusive and hard to pin down. Other lyrics tease the reflective poses that quarantine often invites. In “What’s the trick?” the song’s protagonist asks, “If I die tomorrow, what did I do today?” The whole tone of “That Was Then (This Is Now)” revolves around themes of direction and purpose, “Are you making plans or just making sounds?” And yet, the sound and fury of the album signals the opposite of settling down or calming down. Jack White in 2022 certainly matches, if not exceeds, the raw intensity of his twenties.
Is it a concept album? Following “Taking Me Back” is the title track and second single released, providing a narrative lens to explore the album’s content. Tracks five and ten highlight this case as they are both named “Eosophobia”, the diagnostic term for an anxiety disorder triggered by an irrational fear of dawn and daylight. If this is an implied theme of the record, then maybe fear of dawn is an album that reflects our historic moment charged with existence. While images of dawn and daylight have functioned as literary metaphors for hope on the horizon, White reverses the narrative, implying that the new day evokes terror. In a world reeling from a pandemic entering its third year, the threat of world war and a planet on fire, White’s manic guitar intensity channels the anxiety of the times.
Despite occupying just 2:03 of the total length, “Fear of the Dawn” is a standout track, a compact testament to the genius of Jack White. Offering no quarters, the propelling guitar riff mimics a distorted bass, and the song moves forward with no chorus and an intense 20-second guitar solo that feels longer. Third Man Records social media posts in the lead up to the release shared that Jack White played all the instruments on the track, including the unique sci-fi echoes of the theremin. While this bizarre 1919 Russian invention’s place is ingrained in rock ‘n’ roll lore by the trippy “Good Vibrations” of the Beach Boys, here it returns to its role in the sci-fi B-movie genre of the 1920s. 1950, foreshadowing the alien threat of a deeply troubling future.
Tormented with vertigo after two tracks, there is no respite in sight. The pure fury of the album beats ahead, highlighting themes on the threshold of light and dark with many songs (“Into the Twilight”, “Dusk”, “Morning, Noon, and Night”) highlighting priorities and providing urgency to the listening experience and moment. The penultimate track, “Morning, Noon, and Night” features the twin positions of longing for more time alongside an inevitable time slip. “I could lie and tell you / We should take our time / But you have to understand / That it’s in short supply.” The music is a performative staging of the themes, the repetitive rhythm of the drum reflecting the relentless movement of time as the keyboard moves in and out of conversation, often commenting briefly while expressing ecstatic emotion at other times. The aforementioned double harmonics of Jack White’s voice and guitar place the listener in narrative dissonance. It is a dizzying journey.
fear of dawn reveals a mature White who is not only up to this guitarist prowess whose effects have formed a unique signature that he refines and transgresses. The album finds him reaching new heights as a producer and creative experimenter. White weaves the energy of garage rock with precise but never showy percussion while mixing vocal alterations and random sound effects. fear of dawn features his inaugural sampling essays, most notably in “Hi-De-Ho,” a gripping collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest MC and producer Q-Tip. The partnership results in one of the album’s standout tracks, fusing rhythm and blues, hip hop and samples from jazz legend Cab Calloway into an infectious melody that offers brief respite from the intensity of the album but not to its energy. White’s musical curiosity and propensity for risk yield impressive returns here.
White himself seems to allude to this burgeoning maturity in the album’s final track. “Shedding My Velvet” draws on the imagery of deer antlers maturing and hardening for adult conflict by analogy. He introduces himself to us: “Can’t you see? / This is the real me. This journey towards maturity is never lonely. White depicts the song’s dialogue partner as a heliotrope, a floral symbol of love and devotion, and a flower that turns its face to the sun. With a thoughtful gesture, fear of dawn concludes with a potential subversion of the morbid fear of daylight. The song’s narrator recalls his partner’s saying, “better to illuminate than just shine”, laying a figurative ax at the root of Neil Young’s rock aphorism, “better to fade than to fade”.
fear of dawn finds one of rock’s most unique contemporary figures channeling his artistry toward harmonic convergence, engulfing the listener in kinetic energy while dangling promises of perspective. As the last track foreshadows, “I’m not as bad as I was / But I’m not as good as I can be.” It’s a bold claim delivered in a stellar album. You have our full attention, Jack.