The Dead Weather
Label: Third Man Records
When The Raconteurs emerged from a Nashville studio with Broken Boy Soldiers in 2006, the band worked hard toward the image of a true collaboration. It was dual-rock, they declared, with dual lead guitarists and dual lead singers. But what this sentiment did have in optimistic idealism, it clearly lacked in foresight. The Raconteurs quickly and inevitably became Jack White’s “other band.” Fellow-lead Brendan Benson could never match White’s presence and charisma; The Raconteurs were relegated to side-show status, a “guy’s weekend” away from White’s much more serious endeavour, The White Stripes.
While it’s true that White has confined himself to The Dead Weather’s drum stool, he definitely hasn’t taken a back seat on this project. Listen as far as Horehound’s lead single “Hang You from the Heavens” and you’ll hear him bust out a solo on the skins. I contend that it’s physically impossible for the man to evade the spotlight. In The Kills’ Alison Mosshart, however, White may have found someone to share it with. Her seductive rasp and throaty howl bring a sexual edge to Horehound that White alone could never deliver. The raw energy of the record hangs in balance between the two born-rock stars; Mosshart’s modern blues-punk punches up White’s idiosyncratic take on blues-rock history, resulting in an album that’s both oddly familiar and provocatively new.
In a fashion true to the band’s meteorological moniker, Horehound rolls in with the gentle, distanced rumble of a desert thunderstorm. “60 Feet Tall” builds from the sparse introduction of click-clacks and a hypnotic blues groove into a track constituting a fitting preamble to the album. Mosshart’s audacious, sexed-up persona smoulders in a lo-fi smoke as the track builds to a rip-roaring instrumental climax full of White’s crashing cymbal and a spaced out Dean Fertita guitar solo reminiscent of a Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s not subtle, nor is it nuanced. It’s raw, unfiltered rock ‘n’ roll that makes no apologies.
The proceedings depart briefly from this sprawling primer with the aforementioned lead single, “Hang You from the Heavens.” Packaged neatly for radio-play, the track opens with White’s immediately catchy kick-hat-snare rhythm and stops on a dime with no pesky loose ends. Mosshart belts out a decidedly confrontational chorus while Fertita hammers a simple riff worthy of a prime slot on the New Rock Hour of your local Top 40 radio station. It’s a solid track from start to finish. But in the context of the more primal collection of songs that surround it, “Heavens” comes off as more of a concession to the band’s A&R suits than a meaningful addition to the record.
Subsequent stand-outs more than make up for the radio-friendly indulgence. “So Far From Your Weapon” glides along ominously as Mosshart leads call-and-response verse into a deeply satisfying chorus punctuated by White’s rising cacophony. “Rocking Horse” features Mosshart and White trading breathless incantations while Jack Lawrence’s dexterous bass line tip-toes over Fertita’s strings. These tracks are the real meat and potatoes of Horehound, pacing the album so as to not overwhelm with intensity.
Such intensity explodes from the raucous peaks of an interestingly structured and conceptually written track like “Treat Me Like Your Mother;” the musical equivalent of a fist-fight. Its front half sees Mosshart at the peak of her swagger, “Stand up like a man!/ You better learn to shake hands/ And treat me like your mother,” she demands defiantly amidst a barrage of Fertita’s distorted keys. A disagreeable White switches gears two minutes in, outing the leading-lady as a calculating liar with a “M-A-N-I-P-U-LATE!” chant that will surely incite violence in each crowd that hears a live rendition. It’s difficult to say who would come out on top if the rock juggernauts really did come to blows, but it’s clear that Mosshart isn’t taking any shit.
Much has been made of White’s increasingly busy schedule; playing in three bands, producing more, running a new record label. With Mosshart at the helm of The Dead Weather, he can take a load off. Without flinching I can say that Mosshart is as crucial to the success of this project as the crazy-haired, wild-eyed man behind the drums. That said, Horehound is undeniably a Jack White production, from the dutiful blues tribute (closer “Will There Be Enough Water?”) to the obligatory Dylan cover (Street Legal’s “New Pony”). But I wouldn’t count on project being dismissed as his “other other band.” If anything, The Dead Weather is the rebellious cousin to his native Stripes; minus the horns, plus a band and playing off of the age-old notion that you’ve got to sell your soul to play the blues like this.
by Brady Baker