The past 12 months has proved to be somewhat of a renaissance period for Jack White. Back in September 2021, he launched his latest Third Man Records store in London with a surprise rooftop gig in Soho. Then in April he released ‘Fear Of The Dawn’, the first of two records this year (with this being the ‘twin’ album), and celebrated by playing a surprise set at Glastonbury Festival. That’s without mentioning the shock of electric blue hair that the White Stripes man has been sporting at venues and festivals around the world on his ‘Supply Chain Issues Tour’, or the fact that he proposed to and married musician Olivia Jean on stage in Detroit in April.
Still, White can’t always win. NME described ‘Fear Of The Dawn’ as “often purposeless” in comparison to 2018’s ‘Boarding House Reach’, his exhilarating – and somewhat exhausting – experimental third solo album. And while the vinyl revival of the past decade has been spearheaded by White and TMR’s valiant efforts to re-engage consumers with physical music, he must now cut in line at his own pressing plants and is begging the major labels to build their own factories so as not to rely on do-gooders like himself. White, let’s not forget, remains something of an outsider: too eccentric for the mainstream, but they’ll happily chant his riffs whenever the opportunity arises.
Best, then, for White to keep his head down and execute his own vision. The direction around ‘Fear Of The Dawn’ – which has come alive during his recent festival run – and ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ remains admirable. Having emerged from lockdown with an array of songs but struggling to come up with a coherent sequencing – and, yes, supply chain issues – the decision was made to double-up and separate the two LPs by just three months: the former being the heavier, electric side, and ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ its calmer, but just as curious, companion. One was made for the party, the other for more measured contemplation.
The fact that ‘Taking Me Back’ appears on both records indicates White’s confidence in the songs he’s conjured for this era. It opens ‘Fear Of The Dawn’ as a fuzzy and funky beast, packing one of the best riffs of his solo career. On ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ the sentiment is the same, but the screeching guitar is instead translated via a jaunty fiddle and a shuffling beat. The concept of stripping-back and presenting alternative versions of hit songs to boost streams is now a crude marketing ploy for most, but for White, they’re simply two sides of the same coin.
Those who’ve kept tabs on White’s solo material and various other projects – The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs – will be pleased to discover that ‘Entering Heaven Alive’ revisits ample hallmarks from across the musician’s back catalogue. The muted hues of ‘A Tree On Fire From Within’ has shades of his 2012 solo debut ‘Blunderbuss’, where towering piano chords cut through each song, and ‘Love Is Selfish’ is as intimate as anything on The White Stripes’ 2000 album ‘De Stijl’ or 2005’s ‘Get Behind Me Satan’. Hearing White being as forthright as is he on the record’s stellar opening song ‘A Tip From You To Me’ is thrilling in its own right: “‘Ask yourself if you are happy and then you cease to be’ / That’s a tip from you to me / And it’s worked for sure / I don’t ask myself for nothing any more”.
When he does embrace the same left-turns he took on ‘Fear Of The Dawn’ (albeit at a lower decibel), there are times when White truly breaks new ground. ‘I’ve Got You Surrounded’’s jazzy piano and tumbling bass set the table for a typically evocative White guitar solo, while the space-dub tones of ‘A Madman From Manhattan’ would nestle in right at home on a Khruangbin record.
There’s a temptation with White to believe that he can only be one thing at once: stray too far into the unknown and his work risks being called divisive and abrasive, but re-treading old glories would be admitting defeat. What has made the release of these twin records so satisfying, though, is his ability to cater for all, but on his own terms. This is a creative period, one suspects, that both fans and White alike will look back on as one of his most complete and satisfying yet.
- Release date: July 22
- Record label: Third Man Records