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Review: 'Fear of the Dawn' by Jack White

Jack White has reinvented himself at every step of his career by tweaking the rudiments of music and playing with color codes. A decade into his blue phase, he continues to work new angles on his “Willy Wonka” character. Though rock music has taken the back seat in an era overrun by hip-hop, White has managed to consistently bring something new to the table while retaining the essence of his blues- and folk-inspired sound.


Every time he reappears in the public eye, it is with a new creation to ensure that his audiences remain focused on artistry rather than celebrity. The music always comes first.


Last year, during the inauguration of the Third Man Records store in London, he debuted a new look as he stood over a crowd of onlookers during a balcony gig. Blue hair, striped suite, pale face and the infallible weapon of choice: an electric guitar.


Glimpses of a Batman supervillain, yet unmistakably Jack White.

White at the Third Man Records opening in London on September 25, 2021 [Courtesy: Jo Hale]

When it comes to White, a fresh aesthetic means new music is around the corner; it’s always more calculated than a mere fashion statement. Sure enough, he subsequently announced two new albums due in 2022, one rock and the other folk, as well as an international tour in support of them. The rollout of promotional singles began soon after, hypnotizing fans to obediently anticipate April through flashes of the mantra, “he always follows through on his promises.”


The first album is finally here, and it is safe to say that Fear of the Dawn holds a lot more than what fans are used to. However, this isn’t unexpected given the perplexing experimentation on “Hi-De-Ho,” the album’s final single. In hindsight, White was most likely helping listeners ease into his explorations as a guitar-centered artist avoiding stagnation in today's landscape. The track features a broad range of weirdness, from Cab Calloway's cries to the universe to a distorted verse from A Tribe Called Quest frontman Q-Tip, all compressed into a drum-and-bass framework. It was messy but compelling nevertheless, and certainly no reason to lose interest in the upcoming album. Oddly enough, it had the opposite effect.

It turns out that the above track is as experimental as the album gets. Even though Fear of the Dawn features a perceptibly non-traditional approach to hard-hitting guitar rock, it satisfies every need White has positioned his fans to rely on him for.


His sound is now outlined by a lithe tingle of static. His last album had it too, but there is now a refined glow to it that exhibits his command over “new rock” and its prospects. For a man as obsessed with analog as White, his heightened sensibility to the digital age has proven that he can adjust without compromise. By surrounding himself with musicians and producers who have a flexible proficiency in equipment instead of those specializing in genre, he has made guitar music work in an era where the kids rarely ask for it. And he appears to be having a lot of fun with it too — not once does it sound like he’s altering his sound because he has to. As evidenced by his efforts to bring back vinyl records, White has found the sweet spot between the old and the new. He has thus mastered the craft of packaging ostensibly passé products for modern audiences.

Adaptability aside, the dynamic guitar–drum–bass nucleus of Fear of the Dawn as heard on songs like "That Was Then This is Now" holds White firmly in place as one of rock’s most robust forces. Percussion has always been one of his strongest assets, whether it’s him playing or bringing the primitive rhythm out of his ex-wife or recruiting some of the finest drummers to play alongside him on stage and in the studio. The basslines he now pads his mechanical beats with seem fitting for abstract hip-hop until a screeching guitar pierces through the fabric to reveal the looming figure behind it all.


The metamorphosing mad scientist that is Jack White has probably lost fans along the way, but also gained new ones. This is common for artists who are incapable of being boring. That is why it’s best not to get too comfortable with any version of White considering he can switch up his act in the blink of an eye. Though his first album of the year was just released, it’s already time to start preparing for the next — from knockout rock to gentle folk.


“Entering Heaven Alive” is scheduled to release on July 22 this year.

 

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