Album Review: The Dead Weather – ‘Sea Of Cowards’ (Third Man/Warner)

Look, they don’t care if you’re fed up of Jack White side-projects – and they’re damn sexy when they’re angry

Resentment isn’t even an attractive quality in a blogger, let alone a right-thinking music fan. It’s a particularly dangerous emotion because it’s usually born out of love. But we just couldn’t help it; last year, when Jack White magicked up yet another band in the form of [a]The Dead Weather[/a], to release yet another album that wasn’t by [a]The White Stripes[/a], we couldn’t find it in ourselves to feel glad to have a master acting so prolific. We coudn’t even just be mildly irked that he wasn’t getting things going again with Meg. We damn well took it personally.

Well, guess what? Resentment only breeds more resentment. [a]The Dead Weather[/a] are back once again, and ‘Sea Of Cowards’, from its snarling title downwards, is a record out for revenge. And, as if motivated purely by spite, it’s really good.

Where the adequate ‘Horehound’ sounded reverential, this album is snake-hipped and spooky. White works best when conjuring fantasy worlds. But where the Stripes’ best work idealised an apple-pie America, all serenading mothers-in-law and skipping home with a song in your heart, [a]The Dead Weather[/a], having found their voice, create a gothic world of malevolent, black leather-clad sexuality. They take Suzy Lee from those Stripes songs, tie her up inside the Hotel Yorba and douse the place with diesel. ‘Sea Of Cowards’ sounds like a voodoo ghost train into an Emily The Strange comic populated by zombie cowboys. It’s stylised like a Manga version of the blues. And it’s so low-slung that it disembowels itself with its own pelvis.

As if grabbing the reins, White takes the lead on the squalling ‘Blue Blood Blues’, winding the band up with a tension that proceeds to spin out throughout the rest of the 11 tracks. Matters transmute into the swaggering ‘Hustle And Cuss’, in which guitar and Hammond compete to bring each other to orgasm several times. The closest it gets to tender is a wistful ode to dysfunction called ‘The Difference Between Us’. More typical is the staccato growl on ‘Gasoline’, which sounds like a rock show in a haunted house, black and sticky, Alison Mosshart sidling up to her lover crooning, “You’re so close to me I can smell the gasoline”. ‘Die By The Drop’ begins as a lurching slab of psyche before working itself into a panic, threatening, “I’m gonna take you for worse or better”.

For all that ‘Sea Of Cowards’ pins you down and shrieks “heeeeeeeere’s Jacky!” it’s also the record that sounds less like a White dictatorship than any he’s ever made. ‘This is my band, deal with it’ is the message. The desert drawl Dean Fertita picked up in [a]Queens Of The Stone Age[/a] gets plenty to do here, as does Jack Lawrence’s mastery of the blues. But of course, the real star here is Mosshart. She’s electrifying, sexy like a velociraptor, snarling and cooing and pouting like a rock villainess as created by peak-period Tim Burton. When she yelps “I’m mad!” on the psychedelic ‘I’m Mad’ she really does sound like she’s about to cut you up (Jack would presumably be there filming it on a camera phone… if he liked technology).

‘Sea Of Cowards’, then, is the record [a]The Dead Weather[/a] should have come out with first, casting them firmly as a real band, albeit one that sound like they’d roofie their fan club soon as look at them. It’s actually supremely brave and exhilarating. Because, by the time ‘Old Mary’ echoes out with a promise that the poor woman of the title must “carry this burden ’til the moment of your last breath” it’s actually difficult to imagine White in as cosy a set-up as the Stripes ever again. So careful what you wish for, is the lesson. If this is really where Jack White’s head is right now we should maybe be scared. But it’s a good scared.

Dan Martin

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Click here to get your copy of The Dead Weather’s ‘Sea Of Cowards’ from the Rough Trade shop