If “Fear of the Dawn,” Jack White’s new solo album, was more banana than it is, he’d have to change his current color palette of choice from blue to yellow. And it’s not handy fruit we’re talking about here. The record is tailor-made for headbangers and brains, the two – oscillating noisily between what used to be called “heavy music” in the pre-metal era and the kind of instantaneous shifts and surprises that have generally been the province of heady prog-rock. You can imagine him hanging a “Mad Genius at Work” sign on the studio door, but it’s at least as primitive as it is experimental.
In short, this might be the funniest album Jack White has made or will ever make. This is a statement that should be quickly changed with the caveat that it will not be everyone idea of a good time – not with fierce, free-rage songs bouncing every few bars from one searing riff to an even more incendiary one, like Metallica’s ADHD-afflicted love child and a jazz band merger. (“Stone Age Queens Meet Yes in the Garage” also came to mind as an introductory simile.) But if you let yourself go with White’s brand of attention deficit disordered behavior , what a bonkers explosion “Fear of the Dawn” is… exciting enough to almost singlehandedly make up for how unexciting most of the rest of rock ‘n’ roll is right now.
The real fear some Fair Weather White fans might have, after hearing that the new album shares some characteristics of his latest solo effort, 2018’s “Boarding House Reach,” is that it will be a full expansion. of some of the craziest, Zappa/Beefheart-ian Moments on this effort. Leaving aside for now an argument that “Boarding House” was actually quite underrated, “Fear of the Dawn” should overcome most of those suspicions, simply because of the harshness, liveliness and guitar riff base, which is what more people will want out of a Jack White album. The fact that he seems to squeeze three songs into one, for most of the album? He may be losing a few, among the contingent who just want to hear a single riff easily adaptable as ballplayer music in ballparks. But if you’re more of a musical polymath, or maybe just a quick peek at Cocoa Puffs, this might just be the guitar-rock album you’ve been waiting for a few years.
I admit I was a little hesitant about the album during the first listens. My first response was to turn up the volume, literally LOL at the audacity of some of the wild turns and wheelies from moment to moment, and do a full Mike Myers in the driver’s seat, albeit in swaying back and forth and banging up and down, given the changes in mood and momentum of the music. On second listen, I found the album exhausting: why can’t he choose a path? Why is there a different guitar sound every 20 seconds? Is this a sound effects disc? And then, from the third listen, I was convinced that I was right the first time, and that’s really is an over-caffeinated explosion, from start to finish. Maybe you just don’t put it on when leaving the spa.
Let’s get the two weirdest leads out of the way first, for anyone still seeking therapy for their “boarding house” phobia. Both involve left-field samples: Cab Calloway in (obviously) “Hi-Di-Ho”, the Manhattan Transfer (!), and William S. Burroughs (!!) in “Into the Twilight”. Not by chance, perhaps, these are the two tracks that turn out to be almost funky, even danceable, because White leaves a lot of room for bass lines around the samples. A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip is the only unsampled guest star, riffing on Calloway with some silliness along the lines of “You don’t take jive / Speaking of Jive, I think I was on that label. ” “Into the Twilight” combines not one but two M-Transfer songs popular with average brows – the dance hit “Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone” and the scatty “vocalese” from “Night in Tunisia” – with some commentary from spoken words of one of the most revered trendsetters of the last century, Burroughs. If the entire album was an extreme homage to Burroughs’ slicing philosophy, that might be a bit too much – but having just two songs that go that gonzo with sampling is just the right amount of seasoning. .
Elsewhere, it’s just Jack being Jack, at his loudest and loudest, except for those passages where everything drops but a thick bass line, a jazzy drum swell or a blowing guitar explosion, or when the beat single turns into double time or vice versa. Most of the songs pile on riff upon riff, as if what’s really needed to solve the current quality rock deficit is, you know, a 14 or 21 nation army.
The variations are fun to follow and try to schematize: “Eosophobia” (literally the Greek term for the title of the album) begins with what could be described as a variation on dub reggae, before, with one of the distorted cries of White, it goes into a kind of Who riffage. Then the track brightens up a bit with a comforting Wurlitzer electric piano, then leans into Daru Jones funkily taking his syncopation on the edges of his drums. (It’s one of the few tracks where White uses his road band instead of playing everything himself.) It’s a roller coaster, but where the fear factor is left strictly to the title.
If you want something squarely reminiscent of the White Stripes, the closest thing is the almost simple “Morning, Noon and Night,” which has the almost nursery rhyme familiarity of some of that duo’s classics. But even then, detours abound; imagine ELP’s Keith Emerson suddenly playing organ over a Stripes track, as it transitions to sounding like a 1970s Argent release, and morphs into a bit of a basic Foghat boogie. You even get a faux “Helter Skelter” fade that’s meant to fade back, just because.
White has something to say here? Beyond the uncertain divorce storyline amusingly played on the opening track, “Taking Me Back,” and then never revisited, there’s not a whole lot of cohesive storytelling in these songs, which is fine, being given that the music itself isn’t going for that. There are many declarative statements that may or may not mean something on their own. “You think the sun doesn’t answer to anyone / But you’re wrong!” he yells, like the guy in The Temptations’ “Can’t Get Next to You” who can control almost any element. If there’s a recurring theme on the album, as its title suggests, it’s that daylight sucks. Nighttime is the right time, it seems, not just for love, but for the sheer, unbridled madness that characterizes this album.
Earlier it was noted that this might be White’s funniest collection yet. It’s also definitely his less well-balanced sound; although there are huge variations in each song, collectively they are almost all one hyperbolic piece. But it’s not like he’s given up on writing other kinds of material. The final song on “Fear of the Dark” is perhaps the truest outlier: “Shedding My Velvet” slows down enough to be something the rest of the album isn’t: emotional. If this suddenly reminds you that there are big chunks of what White is missing in this mad madness, well, he’s already promised a separate album coming this fall, “Entering Heaven Alive”, due out in July, which will be represent his softer side.
But I’m grateful to him for maintaining a vibe throughout an entire album and saving other styles for other projects, rather than thinking that a single LP has to use all the tools in its box. “Fear of the Dawn” benefits from being so dedicated to capturing a stream of consciousness that moves as fast as the Colorado River, and would generate about as much electricity, dammed up. When he’s not doing acoustic stuff, White’s vocals almost always sound like he’s on the verge of hysteria, which is part of why he’s so powerful in modern rock, heroics aside. guitar. Now he’s finally made an album just as hysterical as that trademark howl.