‘Fear Of The Dawn’ review: Jack White embraces the modern without rejecting tradition 

Make of this what you will, but you have to salute Jack White’s unrestrained commitment to mess around with no concern as to whether what comes out makes sense as a cohesive whole. The last time we heard from Jack White, he was in the middle of an artistic equivalent of mid-life crisis. The meticulously executed primitivism that shaped his signature style was set aside and everything seemed up for grabs: all spoken-word interludes, electronic sound collages, rapping, and funk jams. While there is no doubt that Fear Of The Dawn shares its audacious spirit with its predecessor, it also feels like somewhat of a compromise, an attempt to project a more single-minded focus in another sense without sacrificing its chaotic energy. So it is both somehow surprising yet almost expected that the record pretty much settles into White’s established form. 

As fas as the music goes, White has not completely discarded the layered sound of Boarding House Reach in favor of the austerity of old. If anything, Fear Of The Dawn is even richer at points with songs unfolding as a series of sections that collide unpredictably into each other. Digitally altered guitars, theremins, and keyboards intertwine while moments of bass or drum thumps hit heavy just to have a quick end. And that is exactly what the main issue is, the record rarely sits still, and White is all over the musical map. While exhilarating at moments, majority of the tracks do not stand with the best he has written and just feel like experimental jam sessions.

Hip-hop and electronica dominate this record while the blues and soul are a distant third and fourth, manifesting in a strange collection of songs that are ultimately difficult to characterize. It is intentionally daring and purposeful in its elusive strangeness. While some may miss the analogue production of the White Stripes discography, it is hard to say White’s new approach is stiflingly old-fashioned or outright blusterous.

Released October 2021, “Taking Me Back” served as the lead single off Fear Of The Dawn.

Coupled with his trademarked muscular, cymbal-heavy drums and high-wire tension, the classic Jack White formula remains intact on Fear Of The Dawn as the impresario charges out of the gate with three manic, caffeinated hockey-hair anthems: the crunchy opener “Taking Me Back,” which is driven by a hysterical rock riff and copious amount of digitalized fuzz that is thrilling enough to get every alienated fan back on board after the dystopian experiment of 2018’s Boarding House Reach; the galloping, standout title track, which combines struggling squeally solos with shrieks of a theremin; and the spastic techno-punk taunt “The White Raven,” which showcases his exceptional ability to make a guitar sound like anything but a guitar.

The record later takes a sharp turn with zigzagging “Hi De Ho,” signaling the more hip-hop-driven second quarter, in which tunes like “Into The Twilight” and “What’s The Trick” come off more like an attempt to be experimental for the sake of showing off how far boundaries can be pushed. When the record returns more or less to straightforward garage rock style that White can pull off better than most in the record’s back half, the weightless instrumentation functions as a breathing space from the forceful, all crash around hip-hop breaks and loud synths.

A pleasing slice of progressive funk, carnivalesque stomp of “Morning, Noon And Night” gets to speak for itself with simple guitar melodies and comparably uncomplicated drumming. At points like this, a case can be made that White has found the perfect compromise between rock tradition and modern production. Similarly, subdued and bluesy “Shedding My Velvet” gently casts a light upon the sonic possibilities in White’s music and can be scanned as a self critique: “I’m not as bad as I was / But not as good as I can be.”

On a larger scale, Fear Of The Dawn is not an easy listen. But this does not mean it is not pleasant. White has certainly tried to rasp his experimental tendencies to meet the desires of his audience halfway. And while that can make large chunks of the record a disoriented and purposeless mess, it does not come off as irritating in the execution despite some of the sharp differences between the songs, which actually flows really well with the day and night theme through the lyrics as well. But right now, from what we have heard, Fear Of The Dawn is another “embrace modernity” album to White’s catalogue.



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