There’s good reason for the close air of anticipation hanging over this
album. The Dead Weather, after all, feature that bloke with the huge bulge in his trousers who reanimated the corpses of both blues and rock’n’roll when they were rotting away in a coffin somewhere. The man who arguably created the first new sound to have been cranked out of a guitar in years: that omnipresent riff from ‘Blue Orchid’ that sounds like Jack White is cutting granite with a lawnmower.
But The Dead Weather aren’t The White Stripes. And away from his homebody pardner Meg, White has, if we¹re honest, been responsible for some bobbins music. That godawful Bond theme with Alicia Keys to name one example, as well as a crushingly dull second album by his other ‘other’ group The Raconteurs that should have elicited far more shrugs than it did.
Of course, extra-curricular activities are to be applauded if they result in songs like The Raconteurs ‘Steady, As She Goes’, which was so laden with hooks it positively clawed open our hippocampus. White is still odd, too (‘Icky Thump’, anyone?). He’s also brutally uncompromising, as he proved when the Stripes headlined Glastonbury in 2005 with a set that was so face-scorching they began attracting free-jazz fans.
But the truth is, away from his day job, White is less creatively liberated, and surrounding The Dead Weather there’s a very strong whiff of conventional, rather clumpy Middle-America jock rock.
It’s still a bolt from the blue, though. Even if White isn¹t handling the reins here (he’s on drums), Alison Mosshart from The Kills has recast herself (although quite tamely) as a kind of blasphemous, snake-hipped voodoo rocker on the mic, and Queens Of The Stone Age¹s Dean Fertita and The Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence handle guitar and bass. Not one of them we would have taken for a fan of Rage Against The Machine, Korn or ’90s rapcore outfit Senser. And yet ‘Treat Me Like Your Mother’ sounds like it slipped through the time-warp with RATM when they reconvened in 2007 and sees Mosshart and White spelling out “M-A-N-I-P-U-late” like neutered, A-level revolutionaries. ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’ is an interminable reggae-metal
racket and ‘Three Birds’ sounds like a muddy nu-metal hybrid of the Blow-Up soundtrack and sports-goth luminaries Korn.
But whatever the other members’ input, everything on ‘Horehound’ is
definitely painted a shade of White, from the whirring guitar sound he¹s
loaned out to his Dead Weather cohorts to Mosshart¹s mimicking vocal (isn’t she always posturing?). And why not? He’s the only real, earth-shattering talent on board. But even with his large hands over ‘Hore…”s rudimentary parts, he’s not done the thing that makes him great: prune the bad bits off.
That means that the album remains an overblown and indulgent frat-boy (and girl) jam. Like anything involving White, or a member of QOTSA, there are moments of real dynamism here that would shame any million-pound pyrotechnics display. The riffs and cymbals dance like lunatic Hendrix fans, ‘Will There Be Enough Water’ is the haunting southern blues White wanted (“Just because you caught me, does that make it a sin?”) that wouldn’t sit amiss on Robert Plant’s ‘Raising Sand’, and ‘Hang You From The Heavens’ swings menacingly like a noose.
Ultimately, though, it¹s disappointing. After “burning the candle at both ends” (they say), the band set up in White¹s Nashville studio and bashed out ‘Horehound’ sharpish. The tale, the title and the photos of them looking like dirty stop-outs who¹d been pulled through a deep thicket backwards suggested this was to be a decadent, seedy incarnation. The reality is as fucked-up and sexy as a night out in baggy combat shorts racing shopping trolleys into bushes.
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