The Dead Weather have a one-of-a-kind sound. A sound that when you hear it, you immediately think, yes, that’s Alison Mosshart and her merry band of swampy bluesmen.
2009 debut Horehound put The Dead Weather on the map as semi-experimentalists – however did feel like a culmination of all band members and their respective backgrounds. Mosshart’s (The Kills) lead vocal duties were often intimate, yet with a tendency to explode in the utmost of urgency. Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs), apart from drum duties, was there to support Mosshart with his ostentatious backing chirps and echoes.
For the supergroup’s sophomore record, White takes a decidedly more centric role in vocalities and sonic influence, making it yet another vehicle where he just cannot sit in the backseat. Sea of Cowards is a large refinement of the debut’s core sound; it bolsters the instrumentation and offers a further influx of bluesy groove-laden cuts, with a twist.
Whilst having 11 tracks, like Horehound, it’s a tremendous nine-minutes shorter than its predecessor. In fact, no track presented here ever breaks a 4-minute runtime. Thus, the result is a snappy and streamlined tracklist, with barely any fat to further trim.
The Dead Weather’s sound can be characterised with the following: lashings of fuzzed-out organ, exploratory bass lines and expressive percussion. ‘Blue Blood Blues’ is an effortlessly cool introduction and immediately communicates that White takes a more prominent stance as frontman. “Check your lips at the door woman // shake your hips like battleships” he clamours in his established demeanor.
In the equally smooth ‘I’m Mad’, White shrieks over Dean Fertita’s stabbing keys and whirling synth noodlings. Switching up the dynamic entirely, the cut opens up at the halfway mark, making way for the true descent into instrumental madness.
The concept of a traditional chorus does not exist within Sea of Cowards. Many tracks are built from grooves and hooks, that either stay their course, or change dynamic entirely. ‘Jawbreaker’ acts as a continuous verse, before transitioning into one of the most delicious grooves on the record. Subtle blues creeper ‘I Can’t Hear You’ harkens back to Raconteurs material, whilst guitar in ‘Gasoline’ does well to reach the dizzy heights of White Stripes number ‘Ball and Biscuit’.
White’s solely written and semi-spoken word tune ‘Old Mary’ closes out the tracklist – a mysterious and swooning piano-driven cut sees White take what seems to be the Hail Mary prayer of Catholic faith and paint it with his own twisted lyrical vision, offering up one of the album’s essential cuts.
The Dead Weather are truly one of rock’s finest experimental supergroups, but then again, with so much talent on board, it’d be hard not to create something spectacular.
Essentials: Blue Blood Blues // I’m Mad // I Can’t Hear You // Old Mary