It would be disingenuous to claim that the Dead Weather’s scowls-and-leather-jackets, “look at how badass we are” persona is contrived. One could as easily argue that all pop music personae are inherently contrived, as success is often as closely tied to an artist’s ability to project an appealing image as it is to, you know, write good tunes.

That definitely includes the White Stripes, whose rudimentary riffs probably wouldn’t have made it out of the shithole bars of Detroit if Jack and Meg wore grey sweatpants and had a bass player. The unconventionality and quirkiness of their whole schtick—the color scheme, the bare bones musicianship, the brother-and-sister fallacy that Stripes diehards still get pissed off about when you bring it up—gave us a reason to pay attention, and once we were paying attention, they hooked us with classic songs.

By contrast, the Dead Weather’s image is laughably clichéd. Just look at the cover of their third album, Dodge and Burn, which looks like the result of four heavily constipated teenagers poorly photoshopping themselves onto a Led Zeppelin album cover. A bigger issue with the band, however, is that even for those who don’t realize or care that dressing in black and pretending to be pissed off all the time has been played out for decades, once you dig into their actual music, well… It becomes quickly apparent that their songwriting isn’t much more original or appealing than their photo shoots.

For those lucky enough to have spent the last six years not paying attention to the worst of Jack White’s many side projects, to clarify, White is “just the drummer” in the Dead Weather, ceding the spotlight to singer Alison Mosshart of the Kills. This is extremely unfortunate because Mosshart is a braying Joan Jett parody with no vocal range who seems to be under the impression that strutting around on stage acting sexy and saying “shit” constitutes some kind of shocking act of rebellion. Her constant squealing and various other vocal affectations irritate to the very core, so in order to attempt to enjoy most Dead Weather songs one is forced to basically ignore her.

That leaves the other three members of the Dead Weather: the rhythm section of White and bassist Jack Lawrence and guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita. In this context, they adhere to the old school of worshipping at the Altar of the Riff, which is curious, considering the fact that they wrote two riffs sometime back in 2009 and have been repeating unimaginative variations therein since. That’s not inherently a bad thing; plenty of bands have gotten plenty of longevity out of no more diverse stockpiles of riffs (looking at you, AC/DC and Motörhead). Unlike those bands, however, the Dead Weather’s riffs are generic blasts of sludgy dissonance. Basically, they’ve got the “slamming random barre chords” (the blaring irritant “Open Up”) and the “let’s imitate a swarm of drunk hornets buzzing in your ear” (the aptly titled “Buzzkill(er)”). At times, they can’t even muster up the effort to work up either of those; “Let Me Through” is built around quarter note repetitions of a single bass chord so heavily treated that they sound like an elephant farting into a garbage disposal. Oh, did I mention that everything must be delivered at MAXIMUM INTENSITY AT ALL TIMES, to hell with dynamics and all that? Despite all this, opener “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)” does have a pretty nice riff, but of course halfway through the song they start fucking with the rhythm and tempo and it falls apart.

Given the nature of the Dead Weather’s usual monochromatic approach, it is unsurprising that the three best songs on Dodge and Burn are the ones that sound the least like typical Dead Weather songs. The most appealing moments in the band’s catalog have come when White and Mosshart share vocal duties; not only does it mean less Mosshart overall, but she proves to be more tolerable when playing off of White and playing off of their admittedly palpable chemistry. This holds true on “Rough Detective,” with White taking the lead vocal and Mosshart sounding downright flirty engaging in a call and response with him. It helps that with its swampy descending slide riff, the song sounds more like one of White’s other bands, the Raconteurs, than a standard Dead Weather slog. By contrast, “Three Dollar Hat” is something completely new for White – a straight up rap song (well, the first and last third are; the middle is just Mosshart-led Dead Weather boilerplate, but I’ll take what I can get). Is it a good rap song? Eh, but at least it’s unexpected. Then there’s the closer, “Impossible Winner,” which, believe it or not, is even more surprising than Jack White rapping. Over piano and strings, Mosshart does her best imitation of a brassy pop diva a la Alicia Keys. She can’t sell it vocally of course, but the fact that the song sounds nothing like the Dead Weather is just enough to make it land.

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