The last time Jack White made a solo album, he was in full freak mode, tossing multiple ideas up in the air and scurrying for cover as they landed.
Boarding House Reach (from 2018) wasn’t so much a third solo LP of bluesy garage-rock as it was an experiment in sound and technology that found White – never one to shy away from challenging his audience – untethering his most difficult and atypical work in a career marked by them.
The next year’s third Raconteurs album, Help Us Stranger, was more of what we’ve come to expect from White: loud, riff-heavy rock ‘n’ roll that wasn’t afraid to look forward as it glanced back. White is one of the millennium’s most restless artists. Following the breakup of the White Stripes in 2011, he’s released records under his own name, as well as with the Raconteurs and the Dead Weather; opened a studio, label and vinyl-pressing plant; and has become a one-man cheerleader for old-school recording techniques.
So it’s both somewhat surprising yet almost expected that Fear of the Dawn, his fourth solo album (and the first of two 2022 releases), pretty much settles into White’s customary form. The curveballs are few here, as White plugs in and lets loose with a dozen songs that have more to do with guitar heroics than genre-stretching. That should come as good news to fans of White’s first two solo albums – 2012’s Blunderbuss and 2014’s Lazaretto – who were put off by Boarding House Reach‘s eclecticism.
Opener “Taking Me Back” cascades into a blur of bent notes, piercing stabs and distortion-drenched soloing that recalls his best work with the Stripes, while the title track rides on a thick, locomotive-like groove as siren squeals ring in the background. And “Eosophobia” starts like a Lee “Scratch” Perry dub before slipping into ’70s hard-rock muscle-car revving. Guitars, more than anything else, define the record, though those looking for the disciplined nods to Jimmy Page and classic bluesmen from the start of White’s career may be disappointed by the often unhinged spiraling on display here.
Fear of the Dawn‘s only real runoff from Boarding House Rules shows up on the zigzagging “Hi De Ho,” which features A Tribe Called Quest rapper Q-Tip, and “Into the Twilight,” a dialogue-sampling kitchen-sink rocker that reaches further than more typical songs like “What’s the Trick.” Otherwise, this is White not so much playing it safe (he’s incapable of that) as it is White exploring familiar territory through some new and occasionally exciting means. In other words, it’s business as usual for one of modern rock’s most exhilarating artists.
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