The Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards
By Jessica Misener
May 11, 2010
Any new Jack White project is bound to suffer the slings and arrows of stubborn fans clamoring for a new White Stripes record. Though rumors of a Stripes reunion hover in the music blogosphere, for now White is still chugging along with The Dead Weather, his “don’t-call-us-a-supergroup” collab with Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Jack Lawrence from White’s other side project, The Raconteurs.
Their debut album Horehound was full of psychedelic blues that sometimes tried too hard, forsaking melody and memorability for a veneer of Old Western swagger. Less than a year later, they return with Sea of Cowards, a more effects-heavy and riff-based take on their stormy Goth-rock.
For the most part, Cowards packs a sharper sting than its predecessor with 35 minutes of blistering sonic fury. Mosshart settles more deeply into the role of roadhouse banshee, spitting out lines like “I’d call you a heartbreaker, but I reserve that for nicer things” with the fury of a saloon woman scorned. When she wails “I’m Mad,” she means it in the Mad Hatter sense, punctuating each line with a burst of manic laughter.
Whereas Horehound lost itself in an absence of hooks, songs like “Blue Blood Blues” are tightly wound and snappingly sparse, as if they’ve taken a page from Mosshart’s band The Kills. White and Lawrence make for a gut-punching rhythm section on the slither and blister of "I Can't Hear You" and “No Horse.” Fertita, who has the unenviable task of playing guitar in a band Jack White is in, nonetheless contributes squealing solos that rub the record raw. The four all fuse nicely on first single "Die by the Drop," a Mosshart-White vocal tradeoff set against raucous music that sounds like you're playing successive 30-second iTunes samples of the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue.
If you’ve seen the band live, you’ll realize that The Dead Weather's largest flaw is the disparity between their pummeling live performances and their blander studio albums. At a live show, Mosshart's prowling stage antics and White's fill-heavy drumming dredge up the full grunt of the music, but the studio version of “Hustle and Cuss,” for example, is too slow and hushed to pack the same blues assault.
As fans of White’s other bands will be quick to point out, The Dead Weather is often prone to murkiness. At their worst, they sound like a sludgy imitation of blues clichés, perhaps a Led Zeppelin tribute band (the vocals on "Gasoline") or more distressingly, like Limp Bizkit covering Deep Purple (a rap-rock tinge on "Old Mary"). But for the most part, Cowards’ collection of muscled blues songs reveals White and Co.’s tighter grip on this horse of a different color.
Jessica Misener can be found online at http://www.jessicamisener.com.