Entering Heaven Alive is Jack White’s most symphonic release in roughly a decade, while also a contender for his least compelling.
Jack White’s in love; or, at the very least, he’s in love with the idea of being in love. The two aren’t mutually exclusive entities, as White did get married this year and seems to be, by all accounts, happily betrothed, slumming around on late-night television to give awkward yet cheery interviews about the milestone. Now, he’s proudly manifested those feelings with a stripped-down, almost naked resolve on his second album of 2022, the folk-rock-centric Entering Heaven Alive, which can be seen as the polar opposite of the harder-sounding Fear of the Dawn, the earlier of the two releases. Basically, this is the yang to that album’s yin, the warmer, more openly inviting of the two, and the active principle that serves as a catalyst for the entire endeavor: the last song here, “Taking Me Back,” is the opener for Dawn — with an added caveat attached (“Gently,” the track states), for good measure — which seems to suggest both albums form a Möbius loop of sorts once placed alongside each other. Taken on its own merits, it’s White’s most high-brow and symphonic release in about a decade, while also being a contender for his least compelling solo work yet.
Unlike Dawn’s constant chaotic fervor, Alive offers little reason to stay engaged besides a few memorable textural elements: the electric guitar pangs that ring out on the back end of “If I Die Tomorrow”; the jazzy opening xylophone line on “Queen of the Bees”; White’s careful string plucking across “All Along the Way.” But some quirky instrumental choices can’t save songs that offer such little to salvage: while there wasn’t a whole lot lyrically going on throughout most of Dawn, there’s even less happening here — and, arguably, that particular factor is even more important in this particular context than when he was scatting with Q-Tip. Again, White’s in love; it’s a fact he reiterates over and over again, with little tonal change-ups. The instrumentation suggests a melancholy tone, but White’s never willing to truly reach those emotional depths. The closest he gets is on the aforementioned “If I Die Tomorrow,” where he requests that “everybody’s love” that “they gave for free” be returned back to them if his death were to become imminent; it’s a poetic notion, accepting one’s own selfish ways and acknowledging the possible absolvement of sins after passing — but it’s one that feels a little too deep compared to what else surrounds it. When you open one of your tracks with “I feel lonely when I’m left all alone / I feel homely when you leave me at home,” it becomes hard to take anything else all that seriously.
If these two back-to-back projects have accomplished anything, it’s provided an opportunity for White to display his impressive and versatile technical abilities, even when filtered through such staunchly divergent styles. Yet, that’s all Entering Heaven Alive ever really amounts to in the grand scheme of things, another one-off for White to keep the critics on their toes. While that strategy has worked in the past, it’s hard to imagine that an endeavor like this is really what White plans on going for in the near future.
Published as part of Album Roundup — July 2022 | Part 3.