Here comes that new Jack White album, like a gossamer in the corner of your eye you dread for its certainty to distract you from your surrogate dog-like idee fixee to which you otherwise would be clinging. Remember folks, he dated Renee Zelwegger. That oughta make you feel better.
There’s also the fact that this album is frickin’ awesome, likely even better than that heaping, incoherent and awkwardly polarized, non-produced White Blood Cells expedition you all know and love for its dog-like inability to make a single coherent statement. “A Tip from You to Me,” right away, saunters in all summery, light but somehow creative and complex, finding its wheels on strange, inscrutable phrasings and rampant key change or unorthodox chordal scheme. Already, I can’t even wrap my head around the stuff he’s saying on this opener “A Tip from You to Me,” like “Ask yourself if you are happy / And then you cease to be / That’s a tip from you to me”. This is a good sign and it seems anymore that Jack White is the only human being on this planet who hasn’t lost sense of the “tongue-in-cheek,” save for Interpol, a band which just seems He**-bent on rubbing their own lack of ambition in your face to the point where it occludes the energy.
Tangents aside, track two on this album “All along the Way” is sugary, but down, acoustic rock geared impeccably for the post-COVID age, to soundtrack cowering, to soundtrack unease and the act of waiting. White’s vocals, while mostly spouting pretty conventional romantic tenets, are cloaked in this really cool quality of overdubbed multiplicity, granting the song a vaguely psychedelic feel, oddly perfect for summer, despite its low volume and deliberate pace. It’s like really good music for visiting your grandmother in summer to, basically, like “I Want to Be the Boy” updated with winner’s blues and a hard-won, relaxed sense of resignation.
“I’ve Got You Surrounded (With My Love)” is kind of like “Float on” except that it’ll make you stab Jack White in the head with its pithy, organic percussion intro and unruly, copious use of ye olde wah-wah pedal over a stupefyingly docile, ambient mix. Remember, folks… sanitize your blades before doing God’s work thar. It’s only right. “Queen of the Bees” is vaudeville pop Valhalla with xylophone, trash can percussion and the head scratcher “The coffee is warm / But it’s not very good / Maybe it’s misunderstood / Like me”. Casio keyboard then inundates this song right afer White’s remission of “I’m the fly on the wall / And you’re the queen of the bees” and… well… I’m not really sure what the heck that means, to be honest. I guess we’ll see. Maybe it has something to do with Hillary Clinton. Piano then powers “A Tree on Fire from within” like a kerosene tank, that percussion again languishing in its own organic austerity, like Meg White reincarnated as a drum-programming sloth. I have no idea what sound this is governing “If I Die Tomorrow.” It kind of sounds like a Moog set to a clarinet setting. Regardless, this song, while again chiming as unimpeachable pop, gets an extra sticker for seeming so much like something White’s already done, but towing an undeniable level of freshness and newfound tension, all the while. The guitar solo, then, on this track, is wholly indescribable stuff, like the organic sound of a Fender Strat spliced on Fruity Loops into chaotic miasma.
I think the effect of this album will be that nobody will listen to it and it will reside in my mind as a sunny, psychedelic update on the strongest moments of Get behind Me Satan, with a newfound sense of freedom, probably for “going it alone,” for one thing, and also shedding the pressure of pleasing a major label. It strikes me very much as a record that was produced on the artist’s own dime and recorded in his own studio, like Wilco’s Ode to Joy, another defiantly original document which billows out with underdog awkwardness, to then manifest and maneuver unwitting subjects like sound and time at apparent will.
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