Review: Horehound by The Dead WeatherPosted: July 13, 2009
Jack White must be the musical equivalent of a shark: He must keep swimming or he’ll die. Tuesday will see the release of Horehound by The Dead Weather, his second side-project’s first album, as well as a pair of shows at the 930 club to kick off the band’s first tour. This means that in three years, he’s released three albums with three different bands, toured with all of them, and wrote a (somewhat disappointing) theme song to a (definitely disappointing) Bond movie.
While The Raconteurs sometimes hewed a little too close to sounding like a four-person White Stripes, The Dead Weather will invite no such comparison, mainly because Jack’s role within the band has shifted. He touches on everything in the album — guitar, rhythm, and vocals — but dominates none of them. Alison Mosshart (The Kills) handles the majority of the vocals, alternating fairly seamlessly between a sultry, bluesy moan to a rocker’s wail. The guitar work, mostly from Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), is almost completely draped in a heavy fuzz, a mixture of “Icky Thump” and “Sick, Sick, Sick.” The two Jacks, White and Lawrence, stay mostly in the rhythm and supporting section, giving a bluesy base for the other two to build on. (I do suspect a few of the solos are White’s doing, however.)
The album is blues-rock played deliberately messily and heavily. As a whole, it’s a lot more interesting than The Raconteurs’ output, though not as memorable or flawless as The White Stripes. If we must compare it to the band members previous work, it’s probably closest to the Kills, so Mosshart might be more of a creative force here than White. That’s not a bad thing at all; the Kills are a great band.
The album is at it’s strongest when it leans hard in either the blues or the hard-rock direction. The album’s best song, the brilliant opener, “60 Feet Tall,” manages to do both. It’s is a slow escalation with spare instrumentation and crooning vocals that leads to a pair of loud and distorted solos. This structure resurfaces in “So Far From Your Weapon,” with slightly diminished returns (still worth listening to). Other stand-out tracks include the heavy, instrumental “3 Birds” and the slow pseudo-surf rock of “Rocking Horse.”
Jack White is normally a master of the pop-hook, but the album’s main attempt at a more accessible track falls mostly flat. Certainly don’t judge the rest of the album by the first not-terribly interesting single, “Hang You Up From the Heavens.” Also try not to be distracted by the fact that the opening seconds are identical to Weezer’s “American Gigolo.” “Treat Me Like Your Mother” is much more likely to be a hit song. It’s more energetic, Mosshart and White both share the vocal spotlight, and it doesn’t sound much like anything either of them have done before, much less like most things on the radio.
As with any supergroup like this, it’s hard to tell how committed the members will be to expanding the project, but I’d be happy to hear another Dead Weather album a few years down the road.