The Dead Weather’s first album was another notch in Jack White’s Third Man belt, a high-octane offering exploding with sexual tension and leather-jacket ashtray bravado. Fused in two weeks’ worth of jamming sessions with Rock cohorts Alison Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence of White’s own Raconteurs, Horehound was a lurching blues-punk carousel where whiskey-grit attitude hit just as hard as any instrument, and could very well be the most important band member on the record. It was mean, it was absolutely soaked in sexual tension, and it was among the finest albums of the year.
Sea Of Cowards is more percussive and beat-driven than its predecessor, though there’s occasional highlight flare when drummer/co-vocalist/mastermind White steps into six-string shoes and peels off some blues-scale spitfire. The malignant sex-thuggery is deadly sharp from the get-go as Jack brags, “All the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service.”- If Blue Blood Blues told the story of the entire album, we’d be hearing a Jack-driven operation from vocals to hi-hats – that elusive and desperately desired solo record fans have been pining for.
Thankfully, that’s not the direction the Dead Weather is headed in. Stiff-legged and dangerous, all jagged spurs and mescaline grit, the track’s like one blue-black half a violent love story, the opposite side told in the bass-boom slut strut of Hustle and Cuss. Alison Mosshart’s vocal is a slow-rising assault, a lurking, fight-seeking tigress turned tasmanian spaz by the track’s end, roaring the title like she’s foaming at the mouth. Damned if rabies doesn’t suddenly sound dangerously delightful.
The Dead Weather are nothing if not erotically brooding, and it was only a matter of time before the ’80s darkpop / PJ Harvey hybrid of The Difference Between Us was conjured. An easy album highlight, the track captures the Dead Weather’s knack for off-tempo oddity and romantic gravitas in a wash of melancholy.
For all its three minutes and change, I’m Mad feels nearly ten minutes long, pulling us into a catty, minimalist playhouse of Warhol psychedelia. It’s the kind of track that will beguile the pre-existing fan but alienate the casual buyer, a la jabby-riffed cognitive-dissonance jam No Horse. By contrast, safe in the Rock zone, the bark/bite interplay between White and Mosshart on powerful fuzz-buzz lead single Die By The Drop is already holding strong rotation on radio.
Organ-driven and built on a dark-carnival stench of inevitable danger, Gasoline is a new high watermark for TDW. White’s squealing guitar lead vies for airtime with Mosshart’s utterly possessed vocals, for a sound not unlike Icky Thump-era White Stripes.
Fantastic riffery and catchy lyricism from White on Looking At The Invisible Man, though it dissolves into a bit of self-indulgent repetitiveness. By contrast, a little dose of Joan Jett soaks through Jawbreaker, a popped leather collar squealer with a sizzling solo/breakdown and frantic finish. It butts up against closer Old Mary, the first 20 seconds of which is full of mind-shattering low feedback that completely ruins any sort of listening comfort and threatens to cause deep bowel shifting. It’s an odd finish, a disquieting conclusion to a box-cutting album that changes impact with each listen.
If the Dead Weather set out to prove themselves eccentric, they’ve certainly succeeded. Uncompromising, they wear their jacket full of bullet holes proudly, escaping direct classification with varied style & influence, always returning to a core of sexual tension and brooding cool.
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.