During the most straight-ahead song, “Morning, Noon and Night”, on Jack White’s blisteringly scattershot new album, Fear of the Dawn, he delivers his thesis statement, “I might lie and tell you/we should take our time/but you have to understand/it’s in short supply”. The literal sunrise/sunset inspires fear and wonder as White grapples with wasting valuable seconds as life ticks away. He is an artist who refuses to stagnate and instead uses every sonic sound at his disposal to bring you into his neurosis.
That ‘fleeting nature of time’ lyrical theme and overloaded guitars are the connective tissue of this loose thematic full length, the first of two solo releases scheduled for 2022 (Entering Heaven Alive is due in the summer) with Fear of the Dawn being the harder rocking of the two (while also displaying the lamest cover art of his career). It certainly cooks, with overdriven pedal effects, modern hip-hop-inspired bass/drums, crashing cymbals, Theremin warbling, and synths leading the charge. Some guitar work contends with the fiercest White has ever put on record such as the punk slamming distortion of the title track and “Taking Me Back” which both buzzes via speaker rattling reverb.
The issue is, overall Fear of the Dawn (like White himself) never sits still and while exhilarating at moments, none of the tracks stand with the best he has written and feel like experimental jam sessions. White can never be accused of resting on his laurels as each of the artist’s solo albums builds and expands his scope and sound immensely. Electronica and hip-hop vibes have infused this record while the blues are a distant fourth or fifth when it comes to influences this outing.
A song like “That Was Then (This Is Now)” epitomizes Fear of the Dawn as the revved-up guitar squeals, industrial static cackles, and crushing punk directness, all crash around hip-hop breaks and loud synths. The ADD-addled number is inventive and wild at moments, but frustratingly never fully coalesces into a memorable song.
His Cab Calloway tribute, a duet with Q-Tip, titled “Hi-De-Ho”, keeps the irreverent spirit of the original while being supported by flamenco guitar and electro key flourishes. “The White Raven” delivers distorted punk/funk with crazy guitar breaks but also rings hollow with his invisible motives and stop-start pauses. The center of the album finds the experimental “Eosophobia” exciting, but even here the players’ ping pong everywhere, abandoning the track’s cool groove for spastic changes.
“Into The Twilight” keeps the theme of fuzzed-up electro bumping jam sessions while White’s recently burgeoning hip hop love gets aired over and over again, especially on the funky album closer “Shedding My Velvet” and his rapped verses during “What’s The Trick?” which also delivers ripping guitar, sounding like an extension of “Ice Station Zebra” from his last release.
Along those lines, Fear of the Dawn as a whole is an extension of the hit or miss Boarding House Reach, only injected with steroids. Digitally altered guitar/keyboards/Theremin intertwine while moments of bass or drum thumps hit heavy, to just as quickly end, leaving sparseness. White is all over the musical map following his unique muse wherever it leads and while the overall result is mixed, White’s willingness to let it all air out during a stagnant age in rock music is to be commended and vigorously applauded.