The Dead Weather
’s first album, 2009’s Horehound
, was a dark, sexy, sinister little record, and their new release, Sea of Cowards
, is more of the same. This side project from Jack White and Alison Mosshart (of the Kills) continues to revel in its dank weirdness, allowing White to pursue mood music that lacks the immediacy of the White Stripes
or the ragged accessibility of the Raconteurs
. Like Horehound
, Sea of Cowards
requires a bit of patience for its oddness to fully sink in, but the Dead Weather remain an intriguing way for White to expand his musical palette.
A Good Album Without Any "Hits"
As with Horehound, Sea of Cowards finds Mosshart handling most lead vocals while White mans the drums, although he also takes over on vocals on occasion. The writing credits suggest that the new album – released just 10 months after the Dead Weather’s debut – was an even more collaborative effort than the first, and the songs bear that out, too. There’s a rambling, loose quality to much of the Sea of Cowards material, which should serve as a kind of warning: Don’t expect pristine, ready-for-radio hits. In fact, the album’s first single, “Die by the Drop,” is a purposely weird blues-rock thing that never quite reveals anything resembling a conventional hook. It’s in keeping with Sea of Cowards as a whole, which offers many moody delights but enjoys challenging the listener with its murky inscrutability.
Going for a Vibe
That isn’t to suggest that Sea of Cowards is indigestible or a chore to sit through. You’ll have to embrace the album’s willfully experimental edge, but once you do you can fully appreciate the funky stomp of a track like the opening cut “Blue Blood Blues,” in which White delivers what could almost be described as a half-scat/half-rap vocal over a grimy riff and some creepy background vocals. That dirty/scary vibe permeates much of Sea of Cowards, arguing that White and Mosshart seem to love the Dead Weather for its ability to allow them to get as weird as they want without fear of alienating their main bands’ fan base. The knock on side projects is that they mostly just cater to artists’ self-indulgence, resulting in inferior songs they’d never release normally. That charge could be leveled at Sea of Cowards, but by and large the album’s adventurousness helps pave over its weaker moments.
A Sexy/Scary Singer
Picking up where she left off on Horehound, Mosshart is a sensuous singer with such a bark that her every vocal is a marriage of the beautiful and the terrifying. On the slow Southern blues of “I Can’t Hear You,” she seems to be toying with a lover – or is she actually torturing him? The song’s menacing ambiguity, paired with the track’s jagged guitar solos, makes it riveting. Elsewhere on the strutting “Hustle and Cuss,” she turns the song’s seemingly nonsensical chorus into a hypnotic chant that meshes beautifully with a smoky-roadhouse keyboard figure. Throughout Sea of Cowards, she and White seem to be pushing themselves to emphasize mood over traditional song structures, and her siren-like voice proves to be the glue to suck you into their sorcery.
'Sea of Cowards' - Bottom Line
To fully appreciate Sea of Cowards
, you’ll want to give the album several spins – in fact, if you can just leave it on the background while you’re doing other things, that’s even better. More so than White’s and Mosshart’s other bands, the Dead Weather are shaping up to be an arty blues-rock project, one that’s not easily understood upon first exposure. But the more you immerse in it, the more horrifying and brilliant Sea of Cowards
starts to sound.
'Sea of Cowards' – Best Tracks:
“Blue Blood Blues” (Purchase/Download
“Hustle and Cuss” (Purchase/Download
“Looking at the Invisible Man” (Purchase/Download
“Old Mary” (Purchase/Download
“I Can’t Hear You” (Purchase/Download
Release date – May 11, 2010
Third Man Records