Music Reviews

The Dead Weather Horehound

(Third Man/Warner Bros.) Rating - 7/10

I’ll just come right out and say it – I love Jack White like a little (er…big) brother. I think he may be the most relevant and talented musician on the planet today. Does that make me more or less qualified to judge his music? Hardcore fans are usually either overly accepting of anything their heroes produce, or overly critical. Not really knowing which camp I fall into, I thought the Dead Weather would be a good way to see which polarized view triggers in my brain. Well, lo and behold, the semi-supergroup’s debut Horehound has resulted in neither repulsion nor worship. Which, considering White’s musical history, isn’t as unusual as I first thought.

It seems that White’s experience plays a limited role in his new projects. No matter how successful he was with one idea, the next one always has a bumpy start. The White Stripes’ 1999 self-titled debut was a decent-enough garage rocker that showed immense promise without really demonstrating much mastery quite yet. When White formed the Raconteurs for their 2006 album Broken Boy Soldier, again, there was a new flavor to add to Jack’s palette, but it was not quite refined enough until the band’s fabulous follow-up, Consolers of the Lonely.

So seems to be the case with The Dead Weather, and if history repeats itself, look to the second DW album to witness the real magic happening. That’s not to say Horehound is a failure. It’s a maiden voyage with a few kinks that need to be worked out. One promising aspect is White’s new pet project, The Kills singer Alison Mosshart. What White saw in Mosshart with The Kills, I don’t know – they are a fun electro-rock band without much room for sophistication or experimentation – but boy, does she unleash a vocal skill set here that is marvelous. Slinky opener 60 Feet Tall turns Mosshart into a sexy seductress, and Hang You from the Heavens sees her voice eerily mimicking the nasal snarl of White’s own singing.

Mosshart is always interesting, but sometimes the band cannot churn out a hook to match her. The Bob Dylan cover New Pony deserves more than just a one-note garage riff and a muddled call-and-response chorus, and So Far From Your Weapon builds a slow-burning fire that promises to explode, but it frustratingly never does.

As is the case with any White project, though, there are some absolutely mountain-moving rockers. The best of them all is Treat Me Like Your Mother, which sees guitarist Dean Fertita (also of Queens of the Stone Age) slinging black tar riffs all over the studio walls while White boils the song with his rumbling drum beats before the band meets for a headbanging bridge. Another highlight is the one song White penned by himself, I Cut Like a Buffalo. Said to be White’s most autobiographical song, he howls, “You cut a record on my throat then you/Break me wide open” while Fertita’s echoed guitar squeaks and pops.

Side projects are usually a place for a musician to indulge their odder, more eccentric traits. However, White seems to be the opposite. His more recent White Stripes albums have been his most experimental, while his music with the Raconteurs is more straight-laced country-folk-blues lure. The Dead Weather is also not much of a drastic departure for White. It is very much a blues album, but it’s thicker and swampier than the Raconteurs. In fact, they have a bit in common with Queens of the Stone Age’s father project, Kyuss. This is music that is close to White’s heart, which we already knew. But it also seems to be dear to Mosshart and the rest of the band. That is good news for these guys, and will hopefully spell very, very good things for their next album.