Jack White’s fifth studio album Entering Heaven Alive (22 July 2022; Third Man Records) is his second this year, after Fear of the Dawn, and it sees him take a completely different, more intimate direction.
“I started writing a lot of songs, and they were in all different directions: some incredibly heavy; almost some like speed metal; some sounded so gentle. I ended up with 20, 25 songs,” White said to Rolling Stone earlier this year. “People don’t respond well to double albums these days. I wanted to put them out [together], but there’s no way we could press all that vinyl and have them all out on the same day.”
The White Stripes, Raconteurs, and Dead Weather founder is known for his highly charged electric guitar solos, but here he largely eschews those for a more laid-back acoustic set, probably on his Gibson hummingbird. It was a blistering hot day when I listened to its gentle tones, and it suited the atmosphere perfectly; it’s a very nice summer offering.
The album opens with A Tip From You to Me, and a statement from the 19th century English philosopher John Stuart Mill: “ask yourself if you are happy and then you cease to be.” This conundrum opens the door to a number of contradictory statements, such as "I don't need nobody's help" followed later by "help me along." This might bother some, but a lot of other artists do the same, and in some ways it captures a very human flaw.
Love is Selfish is a lovely fingerpicking number, the video of which see the blue-haired one wandering hotel corridors, playing on stage and sitting in bars, all alone. “Love is such a selfish thing, it’s always crying Me Me Me”, he sings, which is again perhaps a little unusual as he recently proposed marriage to Black Belles’ guitarist and singer Olivia Jean. The next track, I've Got You Surrounded (With My Love), seems much more consonant with that.
Queen of the Bees is a jaunty foot-tapping song, which is followed by the beautifully refreshing piano-driven A Tree on Fire from Within. The latter recounts the story of a woman, Mary, who has many people around her but no real friends; the metaphor is a stretch but the music is strong enough for that not to matter.
Much more powerful lyrically is the ballad If I Die Tomorrow. The opening of the video features White dragging a coffin across a barren snow-filled land accompanied occasionally by people dressed up in all sorts of weird gear. It draws to a close with our protagonist seemingly lying on top of a dirt grave singing solmenly to the universe. It sounds as grim as hell but it’s just as catchy, and one you’ll have on repeat.
The album ends strongly with the jazz-driven Madman from Manhattan, which twists and turns as it develops; while Taking Me Back (Gently) features an enchanting violin and piano melody.
Acoustic, quiet and intimate, Entering Heaven Alive is a very welcome addition to Jack White’s catalogue, and what is more, it’s perfect for this moment in the year.