Photo Credit: Paige Sara
Back in 1999, as we were just on the brink of the new millennium, Jack White seemingly came out of nowhere (actually Detroit) to save rock ‘n’ roll. Or at the very least, strip it down to its basics, as in his band the White Stripes he used only an electric guitar (supposedly ordered from Sears) and drums provided by his ex-wife (who was not a seasoned pro). But more importantly, he approached nearly all the songs with a raw, unpolished edge while still giving attention to composition and song structure. White largely stuck to that aesthetic when he went solo in 2013, but he also began to gradually phase in more experimental sounds which utilized sampling and synthesizers.
That transformation has now pretty much been fully realized with White’s fourth full-length solo album Fear of the Dawn, on which most of the tracks come off as more of a concoction of random sounds than songs. While there’s definitely – and thankfully – also a measure of focus that drives the whole album, the end results are mixed. The opening cut “Take Me Back” begins with a stomping beat, and then introduces the same kind of fuzz guitar that White’s always been known for. However, there’s also a weird overtone of ’70s disco. Speaking of which, there’s “Into the Twilight” which uses an extended vocal sample for the Manhattan Transfer’s 1979 disco hit “Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone.” It’s another one that’s at least interesting, incorporating an overlapping rock chorus and a funky, innovative interlude.
Much of the album is indeed closer to EDM than rock, though the overall approach at other times seems like there’s some clear Trent Reznor inspiration taking over. Yet some of the material which comprises Fear of the Dawn is even more confounding if such a thing is possible. “Hi-Di-Ho” takes its title from a musical phrase made popular in the 1930s by jazz singer Cab Calloway (who even gets a writing credit), and is a fun but kind of muddled try at hip-hop, even recruiting a famous rapper (Q-Tip). The musical interlude “Dusk”, at just thirty seconds long, comes off like a snippet that White didn’t want to just throw away.
And while it’s a decent track, it’s also a bit strange as to why “Eosophobia” deserves a second turn on the very same album, but that’s exactly what it gets with “Eosophobia – Reprise.” Yet the song is also the first on the album to fully display White’s much-acclaimed guitar playing. In fact, the two straight-ahead rock songs which close out the album, “Morning, Noon and Night” and “Shedding My Velvet” almost come off like a last-minute transformation (keeping with the album’s vague gothic horror theme?) back to the “old” Jack White.
White already has another all-new studio album, Entering Heaven Alive, due in just three months. One may determine his musical fate, as to whether he’ll continue down this path or go back to his roots. Knowing Jack White, he may well find a way to split the difference, even as Fear of the Dawn will probably have the exact same effect on his longtime fans.