Jack White may be done with playing live, for the time being at least, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down. The Dead Weather’s third LP has been in the works since 2013, and while the stop-start nature of its recording meant that the original plan of releasing it in two-track instalments has been abandoned, ‘Dodge & Burn’ is finally set for release later this month. Has the five-year wait between this record and 2010’s ‘Sea Of Cowards’ been worth it? Here’s what we made of it, track by track…
I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)
By now, you’ll probably be familiar with the album’s first single and its accompanying video, which finds Alison Mosshart soldiering on through some seriously blustery weather. It’s a pretty good metaphor for the song itself, which features a tempestuous vocal from Mosshart and some impressively thunderous drumming courtesy of Jack White, pitched somewhere between Led Zep’s ‘Immigrant Song’ and Jimi Hendrix’s ’Crosstown Traffic’. Five years on from their last record, it’s a powerful reminder of what The Dead Weather are capable of.
The first of four previously released tracks on the album, ‘Buzzkill(er)’ originally surfaced last summer, on a single backed by ‘Too Bad’ (which is also present here). Musically, there’s a strong retro vibe at work – the big, bolshy organ riff underpinning the song sounds like a Friday night at the Bag O’Nails circa 1967 – but the lyrics seem more concerned with questions of religious guilt: the titular buzzkiller is God himself, who Mosshart seems determined to outrun (“Oh Lord, forget about me/Let me ride“).
Let Me Through
Built around a squelchy, metronomic guitar riff that can’t help but put you in mind of The White Stripes’ ‘The Hardest Button To Button’, this song doesn’t compare particularly favourably to that one – despite all the sturm und drang, ‘Let Me Through’ never quite finds the momentum it’s looking for, seeming to stagger rather aimlessly through its four-minute runtime.
Three Dollar Hat
If you were to group Jack White’s musical endeavours onto a sliding scale of hues (White Stripes = Red; Solo Career = Blue; Raconteurs = Brown, etc) then The Dead Weather would be found near the black, inky depths of it. But that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of colour, as this beguiling little oddity proves – locked into a back-porch G-funk groove, White inhabits the character of ‘Jackie Lee’, an outlaw on a killing spree, who also raps like he’s in the Sugar Hill Gang (“Johnny said, ‘Jackie, don’t take my life, I got three young kids and a badass wife!’“). It’s silly as hell, but in the best possible way.
Lose The Right
Another of The Dead Weather’s infrequent forays into reggae (remember ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’?), this track is structured around a skanking organ riff, and concerns an ex-lover who puts “poison in your potion” and is “as broken as the ghosts that you believe in“. Ouch. Mosshart is on vocal duties here, which is probably just as well: had it been White, you imagine there’d have been all sorts of speculation as to who this song was written about.
Originally released via Third Man Records’ Vault subscription service way back in December 2013, this is another track that keen-eared fans will already have heard. For those who haven’t, however, it’s structured as a sort of conversation-cum-interrogation between White, the ‘Rough Detective’ of the title, and Mosshart, his quarry, who spends much of the song running circles around him. “I’ll make you retell your story now just to trip you up“, he menaces, but when Mosshart counters that, “Your instinct is defective but your crook’s on fire“, you’re left in no doubt as to who comes out on top in this particular battle of the sexes.
It’s a shame that White’s recent decision to take a “long break” from live performance means that we’ll probably never get to hear these songs in that environment, because while some of them are a little underwhelming on record, you imagine they’d sound great onstage. This track is one of those, with a brutalist, staccato guitar riff and an eerie, evocative vocal from Mosshart, delivered through the looking glass: “Have you noticed the rivers and the clocks, they’re not moving?/What about the birds you’ve got stuck on your ceiling, chirping?“
Another claustrophobic, organ-driven track, this one warning Mosshart’s “little sister” about a predatory “alligator in the glades“, who’s evidently bad news (aren’t they all?). Taken on its own merits, ‘Be Still’ is fine, I guess, but by this stage of the record, you find yourself wishing that they’d start to branch out from their usual gothic-garage schtick.
What was that we were saying about branching out? The arch, playful ‘Mile Markers’ does just that by blending splenetic ’60s garage with Breeders-esque vocal hooks, resulting in one of the album’s more infectious numbers. Lyrically, it seems to be about life on the road – “We used to travel playing hotel games, having truck-stop dinners with Christian names” sings Mosshart – though quite what the “black market bingo that we used to play, but we don’t play no more” is referring to, we haven’t got a clue.
Cop And Go
If ‘Cop And Go’ and ‘Rough Detective’ are any indication, The Dead Weather don’t have a terribly high opinion of law enforcement: “You cop like a cop in a cookie jar, get what you want and take it all”, snarls Mosshart, clearly in no mood to be shaken down by anyone, badge or no badge. Musically, it’s based around a hypnotic, snakelike groove, but our favourite part is Mosshart singing about being in the “danger zone” – a rock cliche we sadly don’t hear enough of these days.
The Dead Weather’s grim-dark aesthetic can occasionally be one-paced and overpowering, but when it works, it’s as mean as a junkyard dog. The lithe’n’lean ’Too Bad’ falls squarely into the latter category, with Mosshart darkly reminding us that, “I know how the story ends/I know who dies, I know who lives“.
A real curveball closer, this one: after 11 tracks of clamorous, cacophonous garage-rock, ‘Dodge & Burn’ ends on one that sounds like a Bond theme written by Abba (yes, really). “I am the desert sun, the ever-endless sea/Not a drop of blue or white is where it shouldn’t be“, sings Mosshart, backed by big, booming piano chords that reverberate out into said vastness. With its soaring strings and defiant lyrical tone (“I’ll be here every night, my name up in lights“) it could almost be the rousing emotional climax to a Broadway show. Does it spell curtains for The Dead Weather? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see…