“First Impressions” is the quick version of an album review. I’m not focused here on diving into meaning and lyrics, beyond what is superficial. I’m not going to chew on the album for weeks, months, or years. What you see is what you get–my first impressions. I guess it’s kind of self-explanatory. Whether my thoughts stand the test of time or not remains to be seen. We’re all about living in the moment here on “First Impressions”.
My actual, unedited first impression of Fear of the Dawn was: this is good. Jack’s best solo work so far, actually. Yeah, I said it. Undeniably rock and roll, with classic guitar shredding and memorable riffs, but fused with other genres and compositional elements that Jack loves to imbue his work with.
This is definitely a Jack White album, but every song feels fresh and innovative, not the forced result of a lab experiment, not formulaic. We get all of the good with Fear of the Dawn–spicy solos, solid riffs, tons of instrumentation, strong lyrics. It feels like he really struck gold in a way he hasn’t in his solo work before. Instead of trying to shoehorn his ideas and sounds into a certain construct, he followed them to their weird, eccentric ends, experimenting and fusing and creating something that sounds like a completely genuine effort. I have enjoyed his other solo work for the most part, but often it has felt contrived and censored in a way that’s hard to put into words without diving into a whole other article.
Now, I don’t research and intensely scrutinize these posts the way I do regular reviews or analysis, but I couldn’t help but try to peek at some notes, some insight, a fucking Wikipedia article–anything–to try to glean what some of these instruments are since I am an idiot when it comes to music (readers who have been here before know this already; new readers are wondering why I have a music blog then). When I do any type of research for these pieces, I try to avoid other music reviews because I don’t want them to influence me. However, I couldn’t help but read the first few lines in the Google search results of various reviews. I saw that the album is incredibly panned, much to my surprise. One such review called it a “hodgepodge” with “good intentions” and gave it 3 stars. I won’t cite who said that, but it’s a respectable publication. So now I have to second-guess my opinions.
I’ve listened to the album more than once or twice. Not my usual regimen for the quick and dirty approach of “First Impressions”. I made an exception for Fear of the Dawn and have given it several thorough listens. The reason for this, and for why it’s taken me a couple weeks to write this, instead of a few days, is because I don’t know how to put into words how I feel about each of the songs. I was going to do a track rankings, but I am so clueless with how to make any sense of my notes. I forget the songs, save for a few standouts, unless I’m hearing them in the moment. I can’t put my finger on why. The album is weird, but a good weird. It’s focused weird. It’s telling a story. It’s whatever’s going on at night, while some pseudo-werewolf guy is making rock music. It’s good. But I have a hard time describing WHY. And this whole blog is about the why.
You’ll really just have to hear it for yourself
In lieu of that, you can read my track-by-track breakdown. I’ve bolded my top 5 favorites. It’s never going to perfectly articulate how I really feel, but I’ve done my best (also, how do I really feel? That was part of the problem.) It’s “First Impressions”, not “First Coherent Thought”.
Track by Track Breakdown of Fear of the Dawn by Jack White
“Taking Me Back” – Classic Jack riff. Full of energy. The most mainstream thing on the album. Makes a good single because of this.
“Fear of the Dawn” – Spooky-adjacent. Fast, nearly frenetic, almost panicked. I like Jack’s aggression and delivery on this song, along with the solos. It is about time someone filled the demand for spooky, eerie songs that the world has been craving.
“The White Raven” – synthwave, Bowie-esque electronica-inspired madness. Is that a synthesizer or is it just a distorted guitar? Who cares (I care. Why would I say that?). Electronic, glitchy, fuzzy sounds. Yes, please. That description makes it sound like the original garage rock revival, but this is futuristic, and yet timeless. Tight rhymes, good imagery. “A white machine gun, a white machine gun / Baby blue grenade, a shade of kelly green machine gun” – “My uniform is invisible;
My camouflage is invisiblе.” Definitely top 2 material here.
“Hi-De-Ho” – Is Hi-De-Ho a drug? I think it’s definitely a drug. And I badly want to get high on it. Expect the unexpected when you hear this, but I’ll try to prepare you: Spanish wailing, sick bassline, catchy as goddamn fuck, rap. WHAT. Seriously, what is this song and why is it so good? Easily my favorite.
“Eosophobia” – riff-oriented, but jumping between several different riffs and motifs to service the story. The song takes you through the different sections of the story, each with their own riff and hook. I love songs that feel like several different, but cohesive, elements woven together. At first I didn’t “get it” and thought this was a disjointed, albeit well-made and impressive, song. It’s become one of my favorites since then. This probably wouldn’t have normally happened during “First Impressions”, but I’m better off for it this way.
“Into the Twilight” – 60s-inspired backup singers, but otherwise genre-less and era-less with its fusion of guitar riffs and piano notes and weird, glitchy vocals. Give me weird and unsettling, but make it catchy. I vibe with it. Lot of instruments, lots of twists and turns. It’s fun to listen to where the song will go next. Similar to how I felt about “Eosophobia”, actually.
“Dusk” – Interlude.
“What’s the Trick” – Guitar picking vs the steady rhythm guitar dueling it out in the background. Jack’s near-rap/sing-talk in the foreground with some memorable lyrics. Here’s a few of them:
“Two gentleman of elegant appearance; In a state of bustitude. I give them coffee colored crystals. That should change their attitude.”
“If I die tomorrow What did I do today?”
“Quit bolting your food; Don’t be rude. Plus one and minus one equals zero; That’s a defeatist attitude.”
Sounds like he really tapped into something. I absolutely love the stream of consciousness verses. Probably my favorite writing on the album. It reminds me ever so slightly of Beck’s “Loser”. I was debating what to choose as my 5th favorite song on the album and finally went with this because of how much I enjoy the lyrics and his delivery of them. He is bringing a different tone to his voice that makes him sound like the wise, old, crazy man who lives down the block and that everyone avoids. I’m here for it.
The one thing holding me back is the hook: “what’s the trick? In making my love stick?” It just sounds unnatural and really lame compared to the rest of the lyrics. Also, either the vocal delivery or the editing on the vocals sounds electronic or something. It just sticks out to me in a grating way.
“That Was Then, This Is Now” – simple riff, child-like melody. It’s very White Stripes-esque. If that’s your thing, you’ll love this. The contrast against more aggressive parts/transition is cool and redeems the song for me. Not bad at all, once it gets room to breathe a bit.
“Eosophobia (Reprise)” – Cacophony of overlapping notes is really cool–like a little flurry of guitar butterflies. I like that Jack kind of lets loose and meanders around, like he’s just jamming on stage. I bet this would be a fun song to explore in concert, i.e. how The Raconteurs would just turn “Blue Veins” into this 10 minute jam on stage.
I don’t normally look up anything about the songs for “First Impressions”, but the name “Eosophobia” piqued my interest. It means “a morbid fear of dawn or daylight”. I actually bust out laughing when I read that. Of course that’s what it means. Why would I think that Jack fucking White wouldn’t piece all of this together somehow? “You think that the sun answers to no one. But you’re wrong. It listens to me,” he says. Contrast that line to the original “Eosophobia”, which basically tells us the definition of the word: “I don’t fear you; I fear the dawn. I fear the sun coming on.”
“Morning, Noon, and Night” – Okay, this actually is a fucking White Stripes song. Was this cut from Elephant? 60’s reminiscent keyboard (or is it a clavichord???). It’s not one of my favorites, but I think that’s because it sticks out like a sore thumb on the album. It’s cute and catchy, but the album is not. Get out of here.
“Shedding My Velvet” – The slowest song on the album. Talks about “the real me”. Musically it’s somewhat jazzy? Is that the genre I want to go with? I’m too concerned with labels. What is this rhythm section doing? Interesting lyrics, seems revealing, but music is suspenseful in a bad way. It sounds like it’s building up and creating tension for nothing.