Release Date: May 11, 2010
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative
Ah, motherfucking fatherhood. Seriously, can you possibly not marvel at the very thought of Big Daddy Jack White propelling the Bugaboo baby stroller along some Nashville street while shrieking like a banshee, “Shake your hips like battleships!”? Lord, what the neighbors must think. And indeed, the second Dead Weather album shows White, Alison Mosshart and fellow trash-mongers Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence trawling through the musical houses of ill-repute with an even greater determination to offend than before.
Rock auteurs go for the jugular Alison Mosshart, Jack White, Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence—of the Kills, the White Stripes, Queens of the Stone Age, and the Raconteurs, respectively—have something in common beyond a love of vintage rock and pluralized band names: They all approach music with equal measures of recklessness and craft. Their sophomore album (following up last year’s Horehound) cranks the mojo up to 11, splitting time between inferno-grade blues-rock and grooves so swampy they practically emit wavy stink lines. Guitars go terse, then molten, while Fertita bends space with his tough, spacey organ vamps; White sings lead vocals on “Blue Blood Blues,” a Zeppelin stomper decorated with tart vocal “oohs,” but Mosshart is the main draw, shape-shifting through punk tantrums, choked blues, and stage-caliber bits of dramatic sing-speak.
For all the wailing and teeth gnashing about the artist formerly known as John Anthony Gillis’ continuing adventures away from the bosom of The White Stripes, it can often seem as if the red and white purists who call for Jack White to drop his numerous other ‘projects’ and return to the studio as a Stripe have forgotten the state that particular ‘project’ had been left in. Take the last White Stripes album, 2007’s Icky Thump – for all its undoubted quality, only Pearly Kings and Queens and fans of Lancastrian colloquialisms would claim it be superior to the triumphant trio of albums that preceded it. In fact, Icky Thump arguably represents the first time White was stumped as to how to push the Stripes sound forward.
Jack White gives himself new bands at the rate the general public give themselves online personas. And Dead Weather's second record, Sea Of Cowards, targets anonymous online folks. Considering the hate-on rained on Dead Weather's sucky jam-session-like premiere, Horehound, you can see why they felt stung enough to fight back. [rssbreak] The good news is that much of that response is channelled into a much tighter effort here.
Sea of Cowards, the sophomore release from this psychedelic-blues band The Dead Weather, in which Jack White drums and sings, is a solid addition to his catalog, with 35 minutes of furious guitar solos and demonic howls. The latter come from White and the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, who once again proves able to wrest the spotlight toward herself. B+ Download These:Riff monster Blue Blood Blues at last.fmOrgan-driven barnstormer The Difference Between Us at last.fm See all of this week’s reviews .
If anyone thought the Dead Weather was going to be the project where Jack White let someone else take the lead, those notions end a minute and 38 seconds into Sea of Cowards opener "Blue Blood Blues", when White tears into one of his most nonsensically badass couplets ever: "Check your lips at the door, woman!/ And shake your hips like battleships!/ Yeah, all the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service!" It's fantastical tough-guy gibberish worthy of Bo Diddley, and it's the sort of line that only an extremely confident singer would ever attempt, let alone pull off. It reveals the Dead Weather to be just another White vehicle-- the one that plays host to his most deranged impulses. On last year's Dead Weather debut Horehound, White largely ceded frontperson duties to Kills singer Alison Mosshart.
Jack White tries too hard. And I’m not just talking about his work schedule—we all know he’s a busy man, churning out other, more high profile releases with the Raconteurs and the White Stripes, as well as producing other artists and lending his talents to soundtrack work. I’m also talking about his image. He’s always been elusive and eccentric, convincing the public that his ex-wife Meg White was his sister, employing candy-coated color schemes, and generally playing up his difficult artiste credentials.
Sea of Cowards arrived less than a year after the Dead Weather's debut, Horehound, an album that sounded like a bootleg of a 3 a.m. jam session -- not a surprise, really, considering that the idea for the band came out of impromptu playing at Jack White's house. It’s also unsurprising that the Dead Weather evolved quickly, given that the group went from releasing Horehound to touring to recording again almost nonstop.
There are times on Sea of Cowards, the loud, wooly second album from semi-supergroup the Dead Weather, where already-loose songs give way to quivering, dissonant stretches of noise, cruddy effects, and guitar lines piled messily on top of one another. On a less devoted album, one whose commitment to burbling chaos wasn’t equal to its allegiance to barbed, catchy hooks, this might seem like the nail in the coffin. Here it’s like watching a crumbling house collapse, a gut pleasure that’s only heightened by its inevitability.
Maybe a day or two after Sea Of Cowards came out I was listening to it in the car with my brother while we were on our way somewhere. At points in songs, he would involuntarily check the screen on my iPod, just surveying song titles, possibly wondering if we were listening to a different band. Maybe three songs in he asked, “What do you think of this?”I told him, “I think this sounds like the record Jack White’s been trying to make for a long time.” My brother seemed to understand and agree.As long as I’ve been listening to The White Stripes, I’ve been at odds with how I feel about Jack White as a musician and it’s not necessarily his fault.
What made the Dead Weather's debut such a success was the rediscovered inspiration and slick song stylings that fans of Jack White had been waiting for since the White Stripes went on hiatus. Despite the power of White's brand name, though, the real star of Horehound was Allison Mosshart. Long the dark princess of the garage-punk underground with her work with the Kills and Discount, the Dead Weather put Mosshart into the limelight.
"I'm mad! Ha ha!" sings Alison Mosshart, four tracks into the Dead Weather's second album. Then, with she, Jack White, Jack Lawrence and Dean Fertita seemingly of the belief that this convincingly summons up gothic insanity, she repeats it for most of the rest of the song. The effect, needless to say, isn't of a band operating at the outer limits of the mind.
THE DEAD WEATHER “Sea of Cowards” (Third Man/Warner Brothers) The Dead Weather wants you to know that it can’t be trusted. “Sea of Cowards,” the band’s second album, arrives in a foul mood, with a high-style stake in misanthropy. Alison Mosshart inhabits the role of a lead singer cagily, at once beckoning and rebuffing affection; her fellow vocalist Jack White does the same thing, with ruddier results.
The bar’s been raised, Jack White and company adding funk to their gumbo of influences. Alex Denney 2010 The Dead Weather’s first album offered ammunition aplenty for those disinclined to doff their caps to Jack White’s alleged genius. Cobbled together in little more than two weeks on the back of jamming sessions with rock star chums Alison ‘The Kills’ Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence of White’s own Raconteurs, Horehound was a largely unlovable affair that shaded White’s ever-present Zep-ophilia with hints of voodoo hokum and – gasp – nu-metal.
Regardless of your listening habits or past run ins with The Dead Weather’s expansive musical family tree – The White Stripes, Kills, Queens of the Stone Age, and Raconteurs among them – it’d be difficult to refute the evidence that their sophomore LP unrepentantly rocks hard and heavy. Whether or not the furious barrage of dark blues-rock on Sea of Cowards makes an indelible mark however, depends largely on what you’re jonesing for when you give it that first spin. If it’s vicious and unrelenting catharsis (35 minutes, to be exact) that you seek, look no further; Jack White and Alison Mosshart exhibit the kind of devilish, vitriolic performance that’s hard to ignore.
Jack White betrayed his Achilles' heel in the White Stripes' tour documentary Under Great White Northern Lights: an innate need for harsh restrictions in creation. For the Dead Weather, that constraint is time – or a lack thereof. The quartet's timid 2009 debut, Horehound, was recorded in three weeks, and Sea of Cowards follows less than a year later.