All images courtesy of Getty Images
By Dylan Peggin
2022 was already off to the races with one of the best rock albums that had come out so far this year with Jack White’s Fear of the Dawn. With the overall tone of the record, it felt that Jack had come full circle with his Detroit-infused bluesy garage rock roots and the end result was perhaps his heaviest album. In a surprising move merely four months after the album’s release, Jack White has emerged with yet another album called Entering Heaven Alive. This time around, he has done a total 180 from the raucousness of his previous effort to a more stripped down, rootsy sound.
Side 1 of the album opens with “A Tip from You to Me” with its crisp acoustic guitars and smooth piano, which sets the tone of the album. The track’s opening lyric, “Ask yourself if you are happy and then you cease to be,” is lifted from Chapter 5 of John Stuart Mill’s Autobiography from 1873. In terms of the chord sequence and melodies, this is something that could’ve been found on a White Stripes or Raconteurs album; but it is quintessential Jack White. The album’s next track, “All Along The Way,” starts very stripped down with arpeggiated acoustic guitars and double tracked vocals. The middle break features some spatial Hammond organ and synched tambourine hits that add another dimension to the track.
The sweet sounding violins and violas from Third Man session player Fats Kaplan signal the album’s next track, “Help Me Along.” This song serves as a tribute to Jack’s daughter Scarlett, to which the song is dedicated to according to the album credits. There is also a playful Wurlitzer piano solo by Dead Weather bandmate Dean Fertita that locks in with an accompanying vibraphone part that just brings a smile to the listener’s face. The next track was also the album’s leading single, “Love is Selfish.” This is one of the more intimate sounding tracks on the album with its sparse arrangement of just vocals, acoustic guitar and bass. Jack is very much a wordsmith with his lyrics allowing the listener to come up with their own interpretations; but this track is one that very much has Jack wearing his heart on his sleeves. Aurally, the vocals have this very “roomy” sound to them which adds to the intimate atmosphere of the track. A Latin tinged drum rhythm, sourced from a Chamberlin Rhythmate (an analog drum machine!), rings in the album’s next track “I’ve Got You Surrounded (With My Love).” It features some Jazz-tinged piano playing by Quincy McCrary and Jack’s staccato electric guitar licks, a signature style that most people will come to associate Jack with from a musician’s standpoint.
Another dedication comes in the form of the next song, “Queen of the Bees.” This song is dedicated to Jack’s new wife, Olivia Jean, who he recently proposed to and married the same night during his show at the Masonic Temple in Detroit in April 2022. It is a very baroque sounding track with some tasteful Mellotron M4000d playing, perhaps resembling the buzzing nature of the said bee referenced in the song’s title and lyrics.
Flipping the record over to Side 2, it begins with “A Tree on Fire from Within.” Another Jack White musical motif is his style of octave piano playing. This is counterpointed with a bass melody that locks in perfectly with the main vocal melody.
The next track, “If I Die Tomorrow,” features a Mellotron providing the instrumental melody throughout the track. The bass on this track is very full sounding with a nice shrill in the acoustic guitars. The use of Third Man Hardware’s own Septavox synthesizer and electric guitars give the middle section of the song a very futuristic feel. The next track, “Please God, Don’t Tell Anyone,” features very forceful, pleading lyrics backed with the most standard, lackadaisical instrumental backing track. The Wurlitzer piano solo by Mark Watrous is tasteful sounding and the piano solo by Quincy McCrary compliments it well. The album ventures into more jazzy territory with “A Madman from Manhattan” with its distinctive bass playing by Raconteurs/Dead Weather bandmate Jack Lawrence. It features standard acoustic guitar chords but served in a jazzy style that matches the track’s aesthetic led by Jack’s stream-of-consequences lyrics and melodic deadpan (if such a style even exists) vocal delivery. It is an overall epic piece that begins and ends jazzy with a straightforward middle section.
The album is rounded off with “Taking Me Back (Gently).” Major emphasis on “Gently” since it is a gentle acoustic rendition of Fear of the Dawn’s opening track “Taking Me Back.” There is a slight country tinge to the track with violins supplied by Fats Kaplan. There is also a tasteful piano solo supplied by Cory Younts. The track closes with the swelling electric guitars that signal the beginning of the song’s electric counterpart, which is a fitting way to bring the duo of albums full circle by ending where it started.
Between Fear of the Dawn and Entering Heaven Alive, it gives the public and listeners a scope of Jack White’s abilities to be both one of rock’s leading figures and one of the most important songwriters of the twenty-first century. Both albums provide enough contrast/light and shade to be able to appreciate his efforts, influences, artistry and overall magic that he provides in his material. Given the quick turnaround of these albums, this is certainly one of the most exciting times to be a Jack White fan. The man is in his prime and I am certain there is still plenty more to come from him in the coming years; but 2022 stands out as a pure moment in time.
– Dylan Peggin (@Record_Spinner) is a columnist for www.vwmusicrocks.com and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org