Supergroups. Often the word alone is enough to strike fear into any hardened muso. I mean, for every alliance of like-minded artists coming together in the name of genuine progress - CSNY, Broken Social Scene - there are dubious groupings based on each member’s flailing career and the belief that four non-entities might make a valid product. Stand up, Velvet Revolver.
The Dead Weather definitely feels like a natural union. Certainly there are no spotlight-grabbing intentions, nor ulterior motives to chase the dollars - nobody involved in this group really needs or wants either. Yet, while it’s definitely not a vanity project (the biggest star has been relegated to playing drums!), it does feel like the luxury of an artist who is free to exercise his creative talents at will. Parallels with Neil Young abound. When the music’s gonna be good, why stop them?
Jack White’s recruitment of Raconteurs ally Jack Lawrence, QOTSA friend Dean Fertita and The Kills’ Alison Mosshart has spawned this foursome, an interesting and significant detour from his other White Stripes side-project, which thrives on the rather more sinister sides of its protagonists’ characters.
‘Horehounds’’ main problem is that it flies in the face of the collective expectation loaded on its makers’ shoulders by avoiding any sure-fire radio hits. There are strong and hugely decadent singles, of course, but it’s difficult to find the assured hooks that made the likes of ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Steady, As She Goes’ firm festival favourites. But then, Jo Whiley has hardly worn out her copy of ‘On The Beach’, has she? What makes ‘Horehound’ so good is that determination from disparate individuals to follow their muse(s) and forge a fresh and distinct sound for this new band, resulting in eleven tracks that are deliciously dark and make for one thrilling ride throughout.
Recorded live, and with little to no editing, this record’s viciousness is two-fold: it emanates from the warts ‘n’ all production, and it positively oozes from Alison Mosshart’s feral purrs. Things start slyly with ‘60 Feet Tall’, which grows from a skulking prowl (sparse guitar, pounding punctuation by the rhythm section, and admissions of the temptations of danger: “You’re so cruel and shameless / But I can’t leave you be”) to a strutting rampage, highly redolent of prime Led Zep’, that sets the tone for what follows.
Those crunching guitars sink like claws into your skin through ‘Hang You From The Heavens’ and refuse to let go. “Nothing you can do to stop it,” Alison warns, and she’s right. Yes, she might look timid and cute, but don’t be deceived - lurking beneath that coy exterior is the primal urges of a monster. And Jack’s no different. Unleashed on lead vocals, he’s just as brutish; “Is that you choking?” he wickedly enquires in ‘Cut Like A Buffalo’, over a sinister vampirical organ.
Said organ snarls and growls in ‘Treat Me Like Your Mother’, an album highlight, which halfway through ignites into a relentless surge after Jack’s clarion call: “Time to manipulate!” No one is safe. Not even Bob Dylan. His ‘New Pony’, originally a crawling blues number from ‘Street Legal’, is here turned into a twisted and thunderous assault that’s far more suited to a rider who named their nag ‘Lucifer’. “Come over here pony,” Alison shrieks above a stinging guitar, “I wanna climb up one time on you.” She effortlessly turns a song about equestrian companionship into a domineering and lascivious command. Nice one!
In the end, we come full circle back round to the ominous calm that introduced proceedings. The post-apocalyptic ‘Will There Be Enough Water’ is accompanied by the sounds of crickets chirping in the humid night, survivors of the sonic torrent just discharged. It’s eerily subdued - just reverb-laden pianos, bluesy guitar and hushed drums, Jack and Alison duetting to pacify the senses. It’s calming in the same way a poke in the eye is after a punch in the gut - you can’t relax for fear of what might happen next. The punch line is that they’re wholly unapologetic for the brutality we’ve just endured. “Just because you caught me,” they sing, “doesn’t make it a sin.”
The Dead Weather, we’re told, is an ongoing concern, which is great news for anyone who falls for ‘Horehound’’s menacing charm, but for the sake of their enduring success a side-step out of the shadows may be required to ensure a mass-market connection. It’d be such a waste to see The Dead Weather fizzle out.
That said, the appeal of ‘Horehound’ is found in the sheer balls of its creation. It’s dense but not impenetrable; it’s raw but not unhinged; it’s ferocious but not disturbing. Ironically, I bet The Dead Weather had such fun recording ‘Horehound’. I mean, who wouldn’t? Deep, scuzzy blues has never been so good!
With more bite than a rabid werewolf, ‘Horehound’ is bound to leave its mark on its prey. Play dead!
Click HERE for an in-depth interview with The Dead Weather
The Dead Weather