Check out the latest from Jack White’s newest project The Dead Weather.
Listen to the album and see my thoughts after the break
Readers be forewarned, I have a somewhat checkered history with Jack White (his music, not him personally; we never got in a bar fight or anything). The White Stripes had some impossibly catchy tunes, but they also produced a lot of things I could never get into, no matter how many times I listened. Through it all, Jack White managed primarily to creep me out (is he banging his sister? Is that his sister? Why is she so bad at the drums?) and to be honest I was kind of relieved when he left The White Stripes behind and started The Raconteurs. Unfortunately, The Raconteurs didn’t provide the voice White was looking for and again, the results were mixed. Given that history, I went to see The Dead Weather last August with mixed feelings. Two minutes into their set however, all doubt was banished and I became a Dead Weather fan for life. The band’s heavy, moody sound showcases rock’s blues influence more clearly than anything in the last 10 years or so. The sound is almost primal and is driven primarily by Allison Mosshart’s intense singing and White’s rock steady presence on the drums. When Jack came out from behind the kit and picked up a guitar, I barely had time to witness the incredible stage chemistry between White and Mosshart before my face was melted off. I got the album as soon as I could and it’s been a regular in my rotation since last August. It just gets better with each listen. I recently saw them again at Coachella and heard a fair amount of material from Sea of Cowards during a really standout performance, so I was very excited for the new album.
Sea of Cowards, The Dead Weather’s sophomore release, is a hard hitting, bluesy rock album that stands at the forefront of a recent “back to its roots” movement in mainstream rock and roll exemplified by The Dead Weather, Them Crooked Vultures, and Band of Skulls. The heavy guitar and bass riffs that give this album its primary shape clearly recall classic rock’s heavyweights like Zeppelin, The Who, and even Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It almost goes without saying that Mosshart’s wailing immediately makes you think of Janis Joplin.
Not content with simply retreading the admittedly awesome footsteps of the greats, White weaves in surprisingly light and funky drum and vocal work in Blue Blood Blues and Gasoline while the bass holds down the steady retro groove. The sung horn hits in Blue Blood Blues are a nice touch that make the opener stand out not just from other bands, but also from the rest of the album. A clear electronic influence is also heard in the drum machines and crunchy analog sounding synths that give The Difference Between Us its keening edge.
The album starts off with three tight singleworthy tunes that establish the pace and mood with riffs that you’ll be humming for days. Beyond that, the album opens up and indulges the band’s weird side a bit with jarring but cool solos in Gasoline and the entire tracks I’m Mad and Old Mary. Experiencing this album for the first time, the openers DEMANDED my attention. I tried listening to the album at work, but ended up giving up on working, going out to my car, and cranking the album full blast to experience it right. The catchy riffs of Blue Blood Blues and Die by the Drop have been stuck in my head non stop since the first listen and my friends who haven’t heard the album already know half the songs from my humming. The more out there stuff lost me on the first time through, but by now (roughly 5 listens) I’m starting to appreciate the raw and playful nature of the later tracks. I suspect that over the long run, the more experimental tracks will give Sea of Cowards staying power it would lack if all the tracks were as approachable and grokkable (sorry) as the opening hits.
From the opening bass riff of the Blue Blood Blues, The Dead Weather establish that this album is going to be a visceral emotional experience best felt at maximum volume and accompanied by a bottle of Jack. It’s a welcome change from the standard indy fare and electronic crossover stuff that dominates the “rock” category today. I’m not saying that the other stuff is bad, but it’s good to hear a band that brings something new to the table while still paying homage to rock’s roots. With The Dead Weather and Sea of Cowards particularly, Jack White seems to be saying “Fuck all that indy shit, this is the type of Rock and Roll that goes with Sex and Drugs.”