Saturday, January 7, 2017

CD Odyssey Disc 954: The Dead Weather

Thursday night Sheila and I went to see Henry Rollins’ spoken word performance. While not music, I highly recommend going if you get a chance. Rollins’ energy is infectious and his observations while highly personal touch on universal notes and make you see the world with fresh eyes.

I haven’t reviewed an album by this band for over five years. Crazy. Back then they were kind of new to me but now I find I haven’t put this on for many years. That is one of the great things about the CD Odyssey – it reminds me there is a lot of music in my collection to love, and to not forget to love it all.

Disc 954 is….Sea of Cowards
Artist: The Dead Weather

Year of Release: 2010

What’s up with the Cover? Not really a sea of cowards so much as a line of weird super heroes. From left to right we have Bird Lady, Mr. Guitar Head, Creepy Jackalope Guy and the Wooden Wizard. Not exactly the Justice League of America.

How I Came To Know It: Our friends Sherylyn and Joel introduced me to this band with their earlier album “Horehound” and I liked it so sought out more of the same.

How It Stacks Up:  I have three Dead Weather albums. I like all of them, but I’m going to put “Sea of Cowards” first, narrowly edging out “Horehound” for the top spot.

Ratings: 4 stars

“Sea of Cowards” is a case study in how to make intense, crunchy rock and roll that gets into your spine, gives it a shake and then departs, leaving you slightly rattled and loving the experience.

The Dead Weather is a collaboration of a number of famous artists: Jack White (White Stripes), Alison Mosshart (Kills), Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and Jack Lawrence (lots of cool bands). While this is only their second album together but their playing is so on point you would swear they’d all grown up together and had been playing music with each other for 20 years.

Like many of Jack White’s projects, this music is heavily percussive with thick reverb and a crunchy sound that is unapologetically rock and roll. This is not an album to get fussed about lyrics and subject matter. This is a record for bobbing your head and letting your hair fall in your face.

The Dead Weather are not afraid to shift gears within songs, sliding from one groove into another within a single song without ever losing forward momentum or feeling awkward. Sometimes it feels like a jam session, if a jam session were to go absolutely perfectly in every way.

The vocal duties are shared by Mosshart and White, although Mosshart does the majority of the work. Her bluesy raunchy power is exactly what these crunch-fests need to lift their energy. The words themselves are just fragments and emotional snapshots, but matched to all that power they just seem more important. On “I’m Mad” Mosshart snarls “I’m mad” over and over again, throwing in a few derisive laughs here and there for kicks. On “Hustle and Cuss” she hustles and cusses and “licks on the dust.” What does it mean? Who cares, because in the hands of the Dead Weather it feels vital and insightful.

The record isn’t afraid to throw in seventies organ where it is needed, but while the spirit of seventies rock is alive and well, the approach to these compositions is thoroughly modern. The result feels like a clever fusing of new turns and approaches with old forms and chord progressions. It is music that isn’t afraid to take sharp turns at unexpected moments. The effect isn’t jarring, but rather helps create and build the restless energy these songs feed off.

The album is truly collaborative, with most songs having three of the four band members writing them, or at least two. Unexpectedly, the only complaint I had was with the one song written solely by Jack White, “Old Mary.”

Old Mary” ends the record, and is half rock song, half spoken word. The song is delightfully haunted by organ, but felt a little directionless at times. At the same time, I wouldn’t take it off the record, because its softer, hazier vibe is the right cool down experience after the furious energy of the preceding ten tracks. It’s that last three minutes you take strolling on the treadmill after running hard for the previous fifteen.

“Sea of Cowards” is only 11 songs long and at a mere 35 minutes total playing time, leaving you wishing it were longer, but that is a good thing. It is a project with lofty ambitions that delivers on those ambitions. Four masters of their craft, coming together and redefining the rules of what a classic rock record should sound like.

Best tracks: Blue Blood Blues, Hustle and Cuss, The Difference Between Us, Die by the Drop, I Can’t Hear You

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

Based on your review, I've been giving these guys a shot. A lot of it sounds very similar to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (which I really dig). And then there is the odd track that makes you wonder what the hell they were thinking (Like "Impossible Winner" on Dodge and Burn).

In all, a good find!