The Dead Weather—Horehound
By Jessica Misener
July 13, 2009
Jack White's new band sounds like the art kids have rallied to beat you up.
In fact, trying to tell Jack White he needs anything doesn’t seem like it would go over that well. Originally half of garage rock gurus The White Stripes, he expanded in 2006 to form The Raconteurs, a twangy quartet cobbled together from various indie bands.
And now White has unapologetically bludgeoned us with Band #3: another article-plus-noun group, The Dead Weather, armored in black leather and rebel fever. No questions, please.
Sometimes supergroups can make it through on their allure alone, because the bubbling combustion of rock egos at least provides entertaining stage chemistry. And this lineup delivers, with White swapping his wailing guitar riffs for a drum kit, the instrument he played as a struggling musician in Detroit; Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age is on guitar, alongside bespectacled bassist Jack Lawrence, who’s what happens when emo decides to become a person. Lead singer duties go to Kills ingénue Alison Mosshart, a chain-smoking brunette fireball who spits out lyrics like “I’m 60 feet tall!” with such machismo that you believe her.
It’s like the art kids who lurked at the back table in the cafeteria have gotten together to beat you up.
Debut record Horehound, named after a therapeutic herb, lurches into stores in the wake of plenty of hype and with a tour already underway. Stormy and staccato, and channeling the best of '70s rock, the album grinds out 11 tracks with sparse, devil-may-care swagger. As Fertita recently told Spin, “This is not breakfast music.”
And if you’re not cranking Horehound over a bowl of Cheerios, you’ll definitely be impressed. Blustery opener “60 Feet Tall” stalks its way through an embittered love/hate saga. The music soars on "3 Birds," an instrumental swarm of angry drums and a throbbing bass line, sort of a gothic James Bond theme. Why didn't they use this for Quantum of Solace instead of that dreadful duet White did with Alicia Keys? Mosshart does her best Stevie Nicks on the swampy "So Far From Your Weapon,” and the backing guitar even mimics that famous clicking riff from "Edge of Seventeen." A raucously rearranged cover of Bob Dylan's quasi-spiritual "New Pony" jangles all the right nerves.
But while Horehound is good, it’s not as stunning a record as this amalgam of indie darlings should beget. Lead single “Hang You From the Heavens” is thrashing and sexy, and follow-up “Treat Me Like Your Mother” makes for an Oedipal snarl where Mosshart smirks, “Stand up like a man/you better learn to shake hands/look me in the eye now,” with the band wildly snapping between time signatures. And yet, both songs are strangely unmemorable. Mosshart’s restrained voice brings better sentiment and inflection to the jaded purrs of The Kills than these teeth-gnashing lyrical grenades.
Mosshart and White’s chemistry, though, is what drives the rock outfit, especially on songs like the funky and slightly manic "I Cut Like a Buffalo," which White calls his most personal song ever. And indeed, the lyrics sound like the pair trading jabs in one of their rumored fights. Their sparks even buoy “Bone House” and “Rocking Horse,” two tracks obviously ripped from the White Stripes’ frenzied playbook.
Though White makes a competent drummer, it’s not until he takes hold of the guitar for “Will There Be Enough Water?” that the album reaches its growling crescendo. Lazy and hesitant, and a spectacular conclusion, the slow-winding song has Mosshart and White chime in for a sultry, “Just because you caught me/does that make it a sin.”
The question is always whether supergroups can outlast one album, and many stumble when the music seems more about the novelty factor than churning out singles. As it is, The Dead Weather would make an ideal house band for pre-Oz Kansas, full of tumbleweeds and sepia-toned attitude. Will they make it to see the Wizard? Only time—and Jack White’s iron fist—will tell.
Jessica Misener wants to be your Facebook friend (http://www.facebook.com/jessicamisener).