Album Review: The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards


There’s no denying that Jack White has the whole blues revival thing down packed. There’s others like him, but with all of his various projects, White clearly stands as the lord and master of the dirty, blues-tinged musical landscape. But with the second album from The Dead Weather, White and company offer up further proof of their musical supremacy: Crazed, manic rock that abounds with the same retro energy and big, swinging guitars while unfurling boatload after boatload of echoes, synths, and noises of the truly damned and utterly insane. And did I mention it beats Horehound? Yeah, that too.

It wouldn’t be enough to call this album schizophrenic. That infers that it’s all over the place due to some unforeseen defect. No, this album is a demonstration of one of White’s more advanced skills: Perfectly planned chaos. Each section, each rhythm, everything down to the tiniest note is mapped out in advance. It’s only with the performance, putting the guitar strokes and cymbal crashes on tape, does the magic, the visceral emotion, actually come alive. And live and breath and bark at the moon this album does, albeit in varying degrees.

They’ve definitely set the pace with a baseline smorgasbord of synth. Tracks like the danceable nervous breakdown “I’m Mad” and the spooky, electro-tinged barn burner “The Difference Between Us” are great examples of the power of some moody key work when thrown into their heavy, bombastic, near-arena rock approach to songwriting. But it’s the other effects that serve the album almost as well. Whether it’s the ragtime piano tossed into “Blue Blood Blues” or the echoes of Alison Mosshart in “No Horse”, each such device is used to painstaking efficiency, to both add to the noise and rumble of their rock and to expand it toward psychedelic rock, but with a spirit that’s much older and much more haunting and emotionally wrenching.

And while it’s easy to quantify many of their decisions, some of them are merely made to leave you stupid and faceless. “Old Mary” is arguably one of the few demonstrations of the band’s power from a strictly emotional sense. Yes, their other lyrical content is deep and meaningful, only enhanced by their ability to rock, but not enough credence is given to their decisions as a unit to make a minimalist track of Bizarro-fied Bible passages that is more creepy and threatening than any of the rest of their catalog. They understand the power of basic human emotions and fears and use it here to frightening effect. And speaking of the un-quantifiable, Mosshart deserves a gold star for her work on this album. Having seen her live, it’s a no brainer to call her a powerful presence, a goddess of the stage. But with the new material, she’s morphed herself into the just-as-mighty vixen, but now with a range and new found depth of pure, undeniable lunacy that is so tangible it’d be off putting if it weren’t so evocative.

Are there weak points on this album? Yes, of course; tracks like “Die By The Drop”, the Horehound-reject that it is, “Hustle and Cuss”, and “Gasoline” are all unfitting of the album’s overall reach and concept. Plus, the album’s seemingly bottom-loaded and it’s only 35 minutes and blah blah blah. There’s a list of things wrong with it, but they’re all insignificant. But when you have an album with so much going right, not to mention more songs written by all of the band or a majority of the band, you let the little things slide and cling lovingly to one overarching message: The Dead Weather are an unbelievably solid band who have made an unbelievably solid record. To argue any other way would be pure madness.

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