The Dead Weather - Horehound
An odd one this, another Jack White side project to add to the collection but in The Dead Weather he’s playing it low key and is ‘just the drummer’. Now, I know there’s a degree of co-ordination involved in drumming but, really, the band could have brought in Jimmy White to play drums and you’d probably not notice too much difference in the end product. No, despite vocalist Alison Mosshart taking centre stage on the album cover this is, to my ears, very much a Jack White product; he’s all over this record like Phil Spector, just without the smoking gun. QOTSA’s Dean Fertita may be physically playing the guitar but, on the whole, it sounds like Jack White, Alison may be the vocalist but you don’t have to listen particularly intently to hear more than a smidge of old Jack’s vocals there in the mix. The trouble with this, for me, is that you can only spread an idea so thin, and the idea behind the White Stripes was almost translucent to begin with; sure it rocks like a schizophrenic waiting for his medication but there’s a definite triumph of style over substance here. To put it bluntly, where’s the bleeding songs Jack?
Of course, in these super sophisticated times it is almost gauche to expect such conformist notions as songs to pollute an album but I am rather an old fashioned sort of guy. Not that there’s nothing to celebrate in the cavernous, howling guitar lines which drench opening track 60 Feet Tall. Reminiscent of the tripped out snippets of Hendrix which pepper the battlefields of Apocalypse Now this is where The Dead Weather are at their strongest, it is loose, but not sloppy, and gut wrenchingly loud. There’s also a great feeling of space to the music, as though the act of recording in Nashville has expanded horizons in every sense. Sure, there’s raw power bursting from the speakers but it doesn’t have the claustrophobic, industrial shackles of Detroit to constrain it – it is neither better nor worse, it is just different.
Regardless of the obvious dominance of Jack White in this supergroup it has clearly been engineered as a vehicle for Mosshart to get the kind of mass exposure that she’s thus far been denied in The Kills. Career wise I guess this is a good thing but, artistically, she’s less effective here in a role which is akin to Polly Harvey fronting Black Sabbath. It seems ironic that she’ll be best known for her weakest work merely because a White Stripe was playing the drums but, that’s showbiz I guess. Her lyrics, even when performing those of Dylan, are all set in the first person and, given the unhinged nature of their content, often make listening to the album not unlike catching one side of a mobile-phone conversation between psychopaths. Not that Mosshart ever really convinces in her delivery, everything seems to be so desperately affected as she plays up to the classic notions of how to be a dissolute rock star. Hang You From The Heavens is the highlight of the album, not least for some interesting drumming from White which approximates the intro of The Shadows’ Apache. I Cut Like A Buffalo adds a bit of off-beat, cod funk, hammond fuelled skank to the mix, but by the time Treat Me Like Your Mother finishes the album has started a descent into bland, indistinguishable numbers, a tailing off which smacks somewhat of a lack of ideas.
OK, so we have an album that has precious few 'songs' and is a triumph of style over substance – avoid, right? Well, yes and no actually. There’s a lot to be said for style, and there’s not many bands who are out there doing the classic 70’s rock thing, certainly not at such arsequaking volume. Hell, not even Led Zeppelin want to bother with being Led Zeppelin so you can’t really blame these four for stepping in and filling the void. Essentially you just need to look at the people involved here and you know what you are going to get. There’s nothing new or particularly interesting on offer, it is just a continuation of the stripped down urban blues that the protagonists have all made careers upon. Let’s cut the crap, it is good but it should have been better.