Friday, December 16, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1607: Jack White

Greetings, gentle reader. I have the day off today, but I spent most of it doing chores and Christmas shopping. With the time left I’m going to write this review!

Disc 1607 is…Entering Heaven Alive

Artist: Jack White

Year of Release: 2022

What’s up with the Cover?  Jack White, dressed in some kind of smock/headband ensemble, leans into the stream of white light, presumably to “enter heaven alive”. Personally, I think entering heaven alive would be quite painful, to say nothing of how you’d manage to keep your corporeal self from falling through the cloud cover as soon as you got there.

How I Came To Know It: I am a fan of a lot of Jack White’s work, so I typically give his new releases a spin. It doesn’t always work out. He’s released five solo albums and while I’ve heard them all, only three of them were good enough to purchase. White released two albums in 2022; this one and “Fear of the Dawn” but only this one measured up.

How It Stacks Up: As you may have already surmised from the previous paragraph, I have three Jack White albums. Of those three, “Entering Heaven Alive” is…last. Someone has to be last.

Ratings: 3 stars but almost 4

Jack White is to rock and roll what Quentin Tarantino is to classic film; both are students and curators of their medium’s themes and evolution across multiple generations. Both sometimes let their enthusiasm for form overshadow emotional resonance, and both are so good at it that you tend to forgive them anyway.

For Tarantino, this means you are likely to see classic movie shots and styles, skillfully worked into a modern film. For White it is the same, only with music, and on “Entering Heaven Alive” White seems more focused on this process than ever before.

The biggest influence this time around is the psychedelic folk/rock of the late sixties and early seventies. White has always had an interest in this era, but it feels (or maybe I remember it) as previously driven principally through his guitar. This is still present, but “Entering Heaven Alive” explores a lot more of the organ and strings you were liable to hear in music of that era.

There is a heavy Beatles influence in places, particularly on “Help Me Along” which has a Sargent Pepper feel to it, if Sargent Pepper was kidnapped by a commune-dwelling string quartet.

The guitar is still there. The Mexican-flavoured picking of “All Along the Way” and the Americana folk of “Love is Selfish” set off well against the fuzzed out riff-fest of “I’ve Got You Surrounded.” On the latter you’d like to say great solo, but the song is essentially a collection of various guitar and piano licks. “I’ve Got You Surrounded” has exactly as much plot as the title provides, and not a lick more, but you won’t mind. Just bob your head and enjoy the patchwork quilt of grooves.

This record is sparsely produced (which I like) and it allows White’s vocals to be a greater point of emphasis. He’s always had a sort of emotionally wounded teen kind of vibe to his delivery, and this makes the album range between “moody troubadour” and “overwrought melancholiac”.  The former is fun and we swoon along with the sad songs, even when (lyrically) they say so little. The latter feels more like when you are trapped in the corner of the kitchen with a party guest telling you about his divorce for the third time that night.

And while the record’s lyrics are more a delivery system for all the musical exploration, there are times when you can tell dear old Jack has found a turn of phrase that he likes a little too much. Examples include, “We met in the rain/in a field of burning sugar cane” and “Pass me the bread and the brown sugar cubes/and I’ll butter your toast while you take off your shoes.

Kill your darlings, Jack.

The album is more about mood pieces and isolated imagery, but a pair of late-appearing gems, “If I Die Tomorrow” and “Please God Don’t Tell Anyone” rise above. Combined, they tell the story of someone fearful of damnation for the things he’s done. Never mind entering heaven alive, these are the tortured thoughts of a man who is fearful of entering at all. The narrator doesn’t plead for clemency, instead exploring the existential dread of a life of ill-deeds, and a few good ones, and the uncertainty of knowing just how these will balance on the scales when time runs out.

The album ends with “Taking Me Back (Gently)” which has a jaunty beat and a shrill saw of a violin bit that made me feel like I was walking between tents at a carnival. Not so much the area with the rides, but rather the area the carnies hang out on their break. Like a lot of the record, the music takes you backward (in this case to turn-of-the-century ragtime). While I admired White’s capacity for bringing yet another musical element into the mix, the song doesn’t quite land after all the hippy dippy folk-rock revival that comes before it.

While overall I liked a lot of songs on this record, something was missing. White’s craft is there, but I didn’t feel emotionally drawn in. Like those Tarantino films, you love the craftsmanship, but you are more aware of how and why you are enjoying it, rather than it just soaking naturally down into the soul.

Best tracks: A Tip From Me To You, Love is Selfish, I’ve Got You Surrounded, A Tree on Fire From Within, If I Die Tomorrow, Please God Don’t Tell Anyone

1 comment:

Sheila said...

I think that's a woman on the album cover, not Jack White...