Entering Heaven Alive is the mellower, sensitive cousin of Fear Of The Dawn, also released this year – and makes for an easy, though never dull, listen.
When Jack White took to the stage for his secret Park Stage performance at Glastonbury a month ago (albeit if it was something of an open secret), it proved to be the mid-point for a busy 2022 for the American rocker. In April, not only had he released Fear Of The Dawn, but he’d also proposed to and married his now-wife, Olivia Jean, onstage during a performance in Detroit. How very romantic.
That loved-up state is where we find him on Entering Heaven Alive, which is a far easier listen than the loud, proud and at times wild Fear Of The Dawn. To begin at the end, a case in point is most obviously given by the album’s closer, ‘Taking Me Back (Gently)’ – a fiddle-led, tune that reworks the opener to Fear Of The Dawn. Its bluegrass-y tone has a nostalgic quality that feels like you’re in an old American speakeasy; one where, at least, you can sit and talk to people rather than yelling over the sound of screeching guitar riffs.
It’s by no means overly soft. White hasn’t gone all Elliott Smith on us. The album’s opener, ‘A Tip from You to Me’, indicates this will be an album of depth – sonically and lyrically. “Ask yourself if you are happy and then you cease to be,” he wisely informs us from the off; advice we can heed on the album as he saunters from one relaxed, enjoyable tune to the next, giving us no need to ask if we are indeed happy.
The up-turn midway through the subsequent ‘All Along the Way’, however, shows White doing exactly what the track’s Hansel and Gretel-inspired lyrics suggest “We’re not dumb, we’ll leave crumbs / All along the way”. There are moments of interesting, slightly unexpected crumbs – if you will – that keep us satisfied all the way through.
The piano ending to ‘I Got You Surrounded (With My Love)’, which sits beneath White’s inevitably dazzling guitar, is really rather beautiful. There’s something almost Queen-like to the ballad qualities of ‘A Tree on Fire from Within’. The prior ‘Queen of the Bees’, however, errs on the slightly ridiculous side of drama – and food is always a difficult subject matter to reference without being clunky or corny (“Pass me the bread and the green tea leaves / I’ll butter your toast, while you’re taking it easy”).
‘Please God, Don’t Tell Anyone’ and ‘A Madman from Manhattan’ are my two favourites of the bunch. The former is a sweeping tune that bears the hallmarks of Wilco, and sees White wrestling with his own inner demons on a spiritual level (“When my father gets to Heaven, please spare him the telling / Of the ways I’ve been sinning”. The latter is very much rooted in real-world, psychological struggles of its title character, although “of course an angel comes to him and sings / She swims under whiskey with her wings”.
Such soulful musings are both where and why this album excels. It might be more tranquil than Fear Of The Dawn, but sometimes the spirit is soft and more to susceptible to be moved by calmer introspection. That said, what this companion album does rather well is offer a newfound appreciation for Fear Of The Dawn. When White played his barnstorming Glasto set, the odd wry smile would have been precisely because this is a musician in full mastery of his craft. Fear Of The Dawn might not have been for everyone, but he knew exactly what he was doing with the double album.
The former White Stripes man recently kicked up a bit of a storm by daring to suggest he had plans to re-edit and put out Prince’s unreleased ‘Camille’ album.
Although he later clarified that he planned to “simply put the songs in the original order that the album ‘Camille’ was in,” the clever juxtaposition of both Fear Of The Dawn and Entering Heaven Alive will give people much greater confidence (as if it weren’t already there) that he’s able to carry out such a project.