The Dead Weather
, which are a collaboration between the White Stripes
’ Jack White and the Kills’ Alison Mosshart, deliver consistently raw garage-rock on their debut album. Not surprisingly, Horehound
bears clear traces of its creators’ principal bands – including White’s other side project, the Raconteurs
– but the ingredients have been mixed so vigorously that what comes out feels like a smart reworking of those familiar styles. In a nutshell, Horehound
plays like a darker, more desperate White Stripes fronted by the Wicked Witch – and doesn’t that sound like something worth hearing?
A Side Project That Combines Two Bands' Best Qualities
When Jack White teamed up with fellow songwriter Brendan Benson to form the Raconteurs in 2004, it was notable since White didn’t seem like the type to want to break out of the distinctive stylistic strictures of the White Stripes. Now with the Dead Weather, he’s done it again, although this new group lacks the playful, let-‘er-rip quality of the Raconteurs. In truth, with Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart handling lead vocals and writing most of the lyrics, Horehound might be more accurately described as a Kills album than a Jack White album – conveniently, though, the Kills’ violently sexual blues-rock always felt like a spiritual cousin to the White Stripes’ approach, so fans of either group will dig Horehound. Aided by Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence and Queens of the Stone Age member Dean Fertita on guitars and keyboards, White mans the drums, giving this album a loose, unvarnished attack that only bolsters the songs’ gritty urgency.
The Woman With the Bewitching Voice
Mosshart’s barbed-wire voice has always drawn comparisons to PJ Harvey, and that similarity presents itself a little on Horehound’s opening track, “60 Feet Tall.” But for the most part, she exudes a controlled, sexy command that shies away from some of the blood-curdling roars of the Kills. On “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and “Hang You From the Heavens,” she growls and purrs with such ease that she shames other female lead singers who bend over backwards trying to be “sexy.” Rather, Mosshart’s femininity comes across as a given, and with White providing backing vocals and occasionally trading off on verses, Horehound can feel like a heated back-and-forth argument between two lovers trapped in a contentious relationship. Granted, Kills fans will rightly mention that this dynamic has always powered that band’s albums, but for White, this is a new wrinkle, and it suits him well.
While the Dead Weather don’t explore such varied sonic territory as the Raconteurs do, Horehound
does find the group playing around some. They rescue a forgotten late-‘70s tune from Bob Dylan
, “New Pony,” and then dismantle it by turning the original’s bad-love sentiment into a raging guitar workout that gets a sex change by having Mosshart sing the vocal. And the creepy instrumental “3 Birds” is the sort of thing that respected artists only try on their side projects – it’s a throwaway lark, but the adventurousness of the track makes it a welcome addition. Throughout Horehound
, even on its darkest moments, the Dead Weather are reveling in the danger and chaos their songs generate. This may be bleak stuff, but Mosshart and White make it improbably liberating as well.
Jack White Strips Down
Although White takes a backseat on Horehound
, one of the album’s best moments comes from him on the album closer, “Will There Be Enough Water?” Most of Horehound
makes a joyful racket, but this country-blues song is straight-up eerie, continuing White’s long-standing fascination with departed Delta blues performers like Son House
. By its very nature, a side project inspires work that probably won’t rank near the top of the artist’s greatest achievements – after all, a band like the Dead Weather is partly about just having fun and bashing out some songs in a short amount of time. But as “Will There Be Enough Water?” demonstrates, Horehound
’s tossed-off vibe has actually resulted in an impressive amount of keeper tracks. Fans don’t always like it when songwriters dilute their focus by devoting time to pet projects, but Horehound
suggests that for Jack White and Alison Mosshart, this collaboration was about self-expression more than it was about self-indulgence.
'Horehound' – Best Tracks:
“Hang You From the Heavens” (Purchase/Download
“Will There Be Enough Water?” (Purchase/Download
“I Cut Like a Buffalo” (Purchase/Download
“Treat Me Like Your Mother” (Purchase/Download
“Bone House” (Purchase/Download
Release date – July 14, 2009
Third Man Records