Photo Credit: David James Swanson
Jack White – formerly of The White Stripes – has had a productive 2022. Besides excessive touring across the globe with side acts such as Men I Trust, Chicano Batman, Natalie Bergman, Larkin Poe, Yard Act, and most recently Mdou Moctar, he has released two full-length LPs. The pulsating, ferociously heavy, EDM-infused Fear of the Dawn – an album as fascinating as it is uneven – has now given way for a much different second release, only about three months later: Entering Heaven Alive.
The vague, gothic horror theme of its predecessor lives on, but the somewhat weird experimentalism of the predecessor has been replaced with what could most accurately be described as rural folk. “Please God, don’t tell anyone,” he begs, as he continues, “Will the things I did well even save me from Hell? // I can’t even recall all the sins I can’t tell.” On Entering Heaven Alive the narrator is often lonesome, haunted by his thoughts or by the poor decisions he has made. The sound is scaled-down and acoustic without any unnecessary strings or electric guitars to take away from the rural feeling of the album. At its best, it sounds a little like a mid-West emo version of the second side of Led Zeppelin’s partly acoustic, brilliant third album (Led Zeppelin III) from 1970, especially during the intricate, excellent build-up on “A Madman from Manhattan” or during the stumbling opener “A Tip from You to Me.”
At its worst, though, Entering Heaven Alive can be a little cringe. Jack White has never been the sharpest lyricist, and lines like “love is such a selfish thing // always crying me, me, me” and “if you need help and your hand is empty // I’ll give you my help by holding your hand,” comes off as self-absorbed and pitiful rather than passionate and poetic. Infusing some of its predecessor’s experimentalism here wouldn’t hurt, either. The quiet mixing and cloudy, grey-scale sound often make it a little too tentative without really being vulnerable or exciting enough to keep you on your toes throughout the 40 minutes.
But for all of its headwind-battling, Entering Heaven Alive always sounds decent enough to keep listening. Never has he examined his acoustic guitar skills quite as well as he does on tracks like “Love is Selfish”, “A Madman from Manhattan”, or “All Along the Way.” Jack remains a generational guitar hero and releasing this acoustic album checks yet another box on his to-do list. When we reviewed Fear of the Dawn earlier this year, we wondered whether he might continue on that path or return to his roots. Turns out it was neither. However, fans rightfully worried about the messier direction taken on the predecessor can relax, at least temporarily. Jack White continues to approach every album like a special gift to his audience, leaving us clueless about which direction he will head in next time around. And even though it may not always guarantee high quality, at least it is always exciting.