BY XAVIER JOHNSON
Music auteur Jack White’s newest album Entering Heaven Alive is a stripped-down folk record that sits in remarkable contrast to the distorted and crunchy Fear of the Dawn he released earlier this year.
Throughout his career with The White Stripes to his prolific solo work, White’s aesthetic and sound are always intentional. His rough garage rock sound with The White Stripes took the music scene by storm inspiring a wave of indie musicians in the 2000’s.
Furthermore, he’s established himself as a prolific producer. White’s list of collaborators is as eclectic as the man himself. White worked with Beyonce in 2016 on Lemonade to create the aggressive and defiant “Don’t Hurt Yourself.” In the same breath, he can collaborate with Alicia Keys on 2008’s “Another Way to Die,” bringing his signature sound to create a bombastic, cinematic hit that brought new energy out of Keys.
White’s solo discography includes five experimental solo records that draw upon a variety of influences from blues, punk, country, and folk music. At this point, White is woven into the fabric of Americana. For some millennial music fans, he’s a modern take on classic American songwriters, pushing the envelope as a singer-songwriter in a genre that can occasionally become stagnant.
Entering Heaven Alive is a lively record that highlights White’s broad talents. His songwriting, musicianship, and eccentric energy are on full display. The tracklist throws enough curveballs at the listener to keep them engaged through its 40-minute runtime. Across the record White shows that he’s a student of the game. The influences baked into each song are not subtle, yet the album doesn’t feel like a tribute. It’s an artist creating something new with the building blocks of his forefathers.
The opening track “A Tip From You To Me” brings heavy Pink Floyd vibes with the ‘Oh will I be alone tonight?’ melody sounding like it was lifted straight from “Comfortably Numb.” “Help Me Along” feels inspired by the lighthearted tracks from The Beatles while “Queen of the Bees” draws from the band’s more experimental late-career records.
White’s production on the record contributes to the classic feel. The instrumentation breathes with the life of a live performance. The timbre of the drums, acoustic guitar, and vocals harken back to the identifiable rock sound of the 1970’s. The folk direction makes the more distorted, strange sections White is known for stand out. “I’ve Got You Surrounded (With My Love)” explodes with distorted guitars and a synthesized drum machine that could have fit on a White Stripes record.
The track list reflects the diversity found throughout White’s musical career. Both sonically and lyrically, White takes the listener on a ride from the aforementioned jangly sing-song track “Help Me Along” to the blues grooves of “A Madman from Manhattan.” The album is a mural bringing many different experiences together to create a unified artistic vision.
All the elements that make up the album come together in three stellar tracks on the back half of the record. “If I Die Tomorrow” smoothly moves along at a walking pace with a killer refrain and strong guitar solo. White’s poetic lyricism shines with heart-wrenching lines like “If I die tomorrow / Could you find it in your heart to sing? / If my mother cries in sorrow / Will you help her with the many things / That she needs from time to time and day to day?”
“Please God, Don’t Tell Anyone” tells the story of a man that did some bad things in his past to provide for his kids; asking the question “Will a thousand good deeds be erased and by just one bad one?” The track is elevated by White’s passionate vocals and a crescendo that evokes the energy of a higher power.
The closing track is a remix of “Taking Me Back” from his previous album. The loud, crunchy, and distorted jam is followed up on Entering Heaven Alive with “Taking Me Back (Gently).” Out of nowhere the listener is hit with the sound of a violin and a barroom jazz beat complete with an upright bass and trap kit.
It’s a surprising way to close the album but is a fitting conclusion to a varied and exciting audio journey with one of rock music’s strongest artists going today.