Jack White thrives on eccentricity.
First gaining notoriety as one half of The White Stripes, White spent the late ’90s and early 2000s playing grungy garage rock with his ex-wife Meg White, though the two portrayed themselves as brother and sister. Later, he fronted bands The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, completing several solo and collaborative projects on the side. Through the years, he has only bolstered his off-kilter brand with raw, unabated music that resists unidimensionality.
Now, as winter gives way and the sun extends its daytime stay, White sinks into the darkness. Throughout Fear of the Dawn, released April 8, he crouches in the shadowed corners, bringing forth new sounds that defy categorization.
White’s first solo album in four years, Fear of the Dawn overwhelms the senses, revamping the musician’s image with startling force. In the opening track “Taking Me Back,” screeching guitars, cryptic lyrics and slanted rhymes layer over undulating electronic pulses. Accompanying the new video game “Call of Duty: Vanguard,” the single is nothing short of explosive, clearing the path for the defiant wave to come.
Throughout the album, White finds satisfaction in discordance, rubbing disparate elements together until they spark with unexpected light. Jazz, hip-hop and alternative rock coalesce on “Hi-De-Ho,” featuring a sample from late singer Cab Calloway and a rhythmic verse by rapper Q-Tip. The instrumentation rapidly shifts from fuzzy guitar strums to a steady bassline to mellowed acoustics, White’s voice interspersing with breathy inflections and precipitous yells. Built upon unsteady alignments, the track revels in weird, experimental fun.
White continues crafting his musical collage on “Into the Twilight,” constructing elusive melodies between the jazzy harmonies of The Manhattan Transfer. As White dives into the deep of the night, unexpected samples emerge from the darkness. “When you cut into the present, the future leaks out,” Beat Generation author William S. Burroughs says in a description of his cut-up method, a fragmentary form of postmodern prose that resists linearity. Throughout the album, White subscribes to and reimagines this model, deconstructing familiar forms to produce something beatific and off the beaten path.
Over the years, White has proven himself an apt storyteller and lyricist. On the Raconteurs’ “Carolina Drama” he sketches a gothic tale of fictionalized murder, complete with a linear plot and well-timed climax. White opts for lyrical simplicity on Fear of the Dawn, however, instead emphasizing odd interactions of sound and temporality. On “Eosophobia,” he addresses this change with evident self-awareness: “If these words come out too simple/ Please forgive my grammar.” Meanwhile, the guitar shifts from rounded to rugged, actively toying with the senses.
When White’s voice does emerge, it surges without constraint. His textured yell layers over a commanding riff in the opening moments of “What’s the Trick?” The moment is not unlike the beginning of the White Stripes’ “Hello Operator,” but White’s voice sounds more jagged and less nasally, a product of advancing time. It cracks, grovels and extends into a hollowed-out whistle throughout the track, eventually giving away to a brief cowbell interlude. Enigmatic, the song marries all White does best with unpredictable artistic flair.
White spends much of the album hiding from the sun, but during his closer “Shedding My Velvet,” he reworks the binary between light and dark. “ ‘Better to illuminate than to merely shine’/ You say this all the time and you’re right,” he repeats in an ambiguous address. White embodies this mantra throughout Fear of the Dawn, casting all in the deep blue luminescence of the moonlight. In the darkness of night, he fashions new, idiosyncratic beauty.
Whether he’s dying his hair electric blue or spontaneously marrying his partner on stage, White has established an outlandish streak. On Fear of the Dawn, his anomalous spirit shines through, and it yields generous rewards. Rather than remaining within the boundaries of genre and form, White bends and breaks the rules — unsteady, as he goes.