Vibrant without direction

A review of Jack White’s new Fear of the Dawn singles


Photo Courtesy of: Eresa Sedó/Flickr

Jack White performing in 2012, at the time when his first solo album, Blunderbuss, was climbing up the charts. His newest album, Fear of the Dawn, is set to release on April 8, and its first three singles have been released in promotion.

Fear of the Dawn, the fourth solo album from ex-White Stripe Jack White, will be released on April 8, 2022. While a deep dive into the album as a whole is certainly warranted, there is enough to pick apart from the three singles that have been released so far to justify a review of their own.

“Taking Me Back”
If White’s previous album, Boarding House Reach, was a middle ground between his more established sound and the integration of a more electronic vibe, “Taking Me Back,” the first song off of Fear of the Dawn shows that his transition has been completed (for this album, at least).

The track opens with a buzzing, siren-like scream from both White’s guitar and keyboard (as all of the instruments on this track were played by White), before launching full force into a series of guitar stab couplets that have the size and ferocity of a live concert. The fuzzy guitar is accented by squealing synthesizers and the introduction of White’s drums, before the mix cuts out and White, singing with two other of his vocal tracks, cries “I’ll bet you do,” and the track kicks off into its unwavering intensity.

Overall, the song feels like White showing off his skill as a producer more than anything. The lyrics often feel amateurish (“When you make us both coffee/Are you taking it black?/Are you taking me back?”), but they do give White as a musician much more of a chance to shine than his previous album had.

Boarding House Reach was a record in which each individual backing member of White’s band got ample time to showcase their talents, as White had, again, taken on more of an auteur role to compose the incredibly tight, funky sounds on the album. While this tactic did create a masterpiece, many fans and critics were quick to note White’s apparent lack of fun on most, if not all, of the tracks, regardless of their overall reviews. Now that “Taking Me Back” has White both playing in and controlling the studio, this combination of sonic architecture and musical talent creates one of White’s most exciting and exuberant tracks yet.

“Fear of the Dawn”
Whatever of White’s excitement that was created and projected on “Taking Me Back” abruptly disappears by the time the album’s second single, “Fear of the Dawn,” kicks off. The familiar, fuzzed-out guitar kicks into gear at a faster, more urgent pace than its predecessor. White swaps out the synthesizer for a much more eclectic instrument, the theremin, which sounds like it is being wrestled by White in the background, producing whistles and shouts that eerily echo the vocals.

The smile on White’s face that is audible in “Taking Me Back” is swapped for the aptly described fear and anger in the title of this track. Lines like, “When the moon is above you, does it tell you I love you by screaming,” and “To keep us alive, I’m going to hold you and hide electricity” paint a narrator wrecked by fear of both losing light and his love, both of which he clings to for dear life.

While, lyrically, this song is a vast improvement over the first track, the production value goes down. The whole mix feels very compressed, almost to the point of being unintelligible beyond the oddly clean sounding theremin, save for both of White’s trademark schizophrenic, messy solos. Perhaps this was intentional, as both the song and its music video showcase very enclosed spaces, but the lines between tactic and sloppy are too blurry to tell for sure.

The third single and fourth track on this album is when things started to become confusing from a theoretical perspective as to what this album would really offer. This song is almost a collage of sounds, none of which necessarily flow into each other with much precision, but are connected through the recurrent vocal line of “hi-de-ho.”

After a slow, lumbering intro of muddy guitar warbles and clanking drum fills, the track explodes into a nearly cinematic scale, with some of the more fuzzy sounds from the previous tracks being replaced with organs and clean sounding synthesizers. A sample of Cab Callaway’s “Hi-De-Ho Man,” the inspiration for this song’s hook, plays over the slow fades of the instruments, before a funk driven baseline kicks the song into a consistent tempo.

White’s vocals are few and far between on this track, almost acting as rapper Q-Tip’s hype-man, as the featured artist takes the second minute of the song to provide a sing-song verse that delivers a lot in terms of lyrical composition and flow, but the delivery and the processing on the vocals makes it grade rather quickly.

This track is a departure of sound beyond what was even on Boarding House Reach. While the extended instrumental passages on that record felt incredibly tight and rehearsed, this song feels very sloppy in its execution. White is an incredibly engaging live musician, so the sound is not necessarily bad, but it still feels on the lower end of what White is capable of.

None of the instrumentation feels out of place, and none of it is played poorly; it is mainly the fault of the laughable vocal incorporations that hold this track back. If they were easier to ignore, this song would be much more enjoyable, but because of their prevalence, this track as a whole feels aggravating to listen to.

It’s tough to say at the moment what the rest of White’s new album will entail, but these few glimpses into the sounds that will be present on the record overall leave a lot to be desired, less from a production standpoint and more in the way that these songs lack an overall direction. Perhaps it will become clearer as a whole, but so far, it is reasonable to be, if not fearful, then apprehensive of the “dawn” that White is selling.