Jack White returns after a near four year hiatus with the explosive Fear of the Dawn, his most ambitious solo work and arguably his most impressive display of songcraft since his days fronting The Raconteurs. Where Blunderbuss and Lazaretto threw in splashes of flourish, the majority of the pieces here are standalone instrumental workouts, billowing listeners with a series of blistering guitar hooks. The highlights are nominally the instrumental ones: brisque, bucolic, and bristling with fire, invoking the Led Zeppelin records of his youth, albeit with a production style that is distinctly White’s alone.
White takes this as an opportunity to break out into bold, stylistic avenues, carefully designing his vocals around the pummelling hooks, his voice shrill, singular and soaked with a casing of soul. Out of all the songs, ‘Eosophobia’ holds the greatest re-listenable quality, not least because the madness is so infectious, wrapping listeners in a frenzied, Faustian madness that washes over the eardrums.
But that’s not to say the other songs are ordinary, as White imbibes his inner rocker, most notably on the tense, emotionally coiled ‘Taking Me Back’, featuring some of the most visceral, thrilling guitar performances of his career. Also, the more thunderous numbers come early in the album, giving listeners the chance to unwind by the time the lilting ‘Morning, Noon, And Night’ comes along.
Fear of the Dawn is a masterpiece of economy, challenging listeners by virtue of its content, not in length, none of the tracks pushing the boundaries of radio runtime. The dense ‘Into The Twilight’ condenses the pomp of The White Stripes into something more compact and shimmering, making one swooping, exhilarating take, every riff roaring through the cylinders, pre-empting the live shows that are sure to follow.
White is a studio musician who thrives on the stage, something his first three albums forgot, emphasising the shadings and stylistic pyrotechnics that were almost impossible to replicate onstage. Fear of the Dawn makes that earnest 180, applying his skills to the integrity and authenticity of the music.
It’s not all haughtiness and guitar amps: ‘Hi De Ho’ exhibits the guitar player at his most gleefully macabre, returning the musician to his gothic roots. ‘The White Raven’ holds true to the literary emblems that have earmarked his work, and the album closes on the monstrous ‘Shedding My Velvet’, the guitar deeply presented, and keenly performed. The album makes a strong case for White’s prowess as one of the most talented six-string players of his generation, every note stirring with drama and ambition.
This is why a new Raconteurs album is going to benefit from White’s resurgence as an instrumental force, especially since Brendan Benson handles the majority of the vocals. We’ve had decades of Whites voice, whether it’s trading lines with Alicia Keys or singing with The Rolling Stones in Shine A Light, so it’s high time we remember his guitar work. And Fear of The Dawn shows his prowess, and then some. Keep on rocking in this free world. Brilliant.