Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Potholes
Every so often, the crew here at Potholes likes to treat our readers to something a little different, such as past reviews of Grizzly Bear and The Heliocentrics/Mulatu Astatke. This time around, we have the blues-rock of Jack White’s latest project, The Dead Weather.
For blues-rock to truly work these days, it has to have at least one of two qualities: Soul and/or balls. Soul-filled blues-rock can be felt and heard in the funky garage stylings of Detroit’s Dirtbombs and, to an extent, the more recent work of John Mayer. As for the ballsy blues-rock, that’s left for groups like The Black Keys, The White Stripes, and, perhaps even more so, The Dead Weather. A combination of The White Stripes (everything-man Jack White), The Raconteurs (guitarist/organist Dean Fertita and bassist Jack Lawrence), and The Kills (vocalist/guitarist Alison Mosshart), The Dead Weather is the kind of “super group” that actually delivers and doesn’t just churn out a cash-in project. Horehound, the band’s scuzzy Nashville debut, is one of this year’s finest rock albums, if only because it’s unapologetically bluesy, noisy, and altogether fantastic.
To be more specific, this foursome plays a type of blues-rock akin to the alternative rock churned out in the early to mid-1990s. In other words, they blend blues riffs with grungy and gritty guitar sounds only now properly maintained by groups like Queens of the Stone Age, which Fertita has played with. Actually, The Dead Weather’s sound is a lot like a lo-fi combination of the aforementioned Raconteurs and QotSA, just with a female singer (Mosshart). And you can hear that stoner/blues hybrid across nearly all of Horehound, save a few tracks. But that comparison is undeniable on the straightforward scuz-rock of “No Hassle Night” and the stellar first single “Hang You from the Heavens”, which features drop-dead-gorgeously gritty guitar sounds and solos. And that quality even creeps forth on the perfect album-closer “Will There Be Enough Water?”, though it’s a bit more mellowed out than anything usually heard from the QotSA camp.
The Dead Weather’s style really comes together on tracks where the band sounds unique instead of like a sum of its parts, though its parts are some of rock’s finest. The finest example of this is “I Cut You Like a Buffalo”. With White handling vocal duties through a distorted microphone, Fertita steals the show as he drowns the track in wild church organs; the band also offers some very nice chord progressions to boot. Then there are the tracks “New Pony”, which is a Bob Dylan cover, and “So Far From You”. The two cuts evoke images of a whiskey-soaked bar band playing for a slew of blues-hungry Southern cronies. And it’s not difficult to picture Mosshart on stage flanked by her three boys, who fill in the gaps left by her sultry voice with backing vocals, echoing organs, and smashing drums. The album’s second single, “Treat Me Like Your Mother”, is just as impressive and must translate to one hell of a showstopper in concert.
Once The Dead Weather’s 44 minutes are up on Horehound, it’s difficult to find a weak link. The only cut that fails to hit as hard as its cohorts is “Bone House,” which just gets too messy in the post-hook noodling. But even then, “Bone House” isn’t bad in the typical sense. And, as other critics have noted, the album is a grower for some listeners, who are likely to end up loving it after the second spin. Horehound is the work of four talented musicians who kept their egos in check – everyone has songwriting credits on here – and who can make one hell of a record. It also proves that almost everything Jack White touches turns to gold.