The Dead Weather Horehound

[Warner Bros./Third Man; 2009]

Styles: Detroit blues, garage rock
Others: Black Mountain, The Raconteurs

Someone has crossed Jack White and his band of loathsome jackals, their claws scraping at the empty sand. Calling themselves The Dead Weather, they brandish drums, drawl, and darkness on this set of frayed wires, this Horehound. Taking no guff from Lucifer, and even less from you, the band snarl in the cantina for 11 songs, sure drunk, even if they forgot why.

Ditching the concentrated fury of The Raconteurs and the tempered marksmanship of The White Stripes, here Jack White is reckless. Released from the boss man role, he lurks in the shadows cast by The Kills’ lead singer Alison Mosshart’s smoke-curdled wail. Grizzled axe and organ by Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) and choked bass by Jack Lawrence muddy the landscape, as White kicks his boot through cymbal and snare on his first shift behind the kit since he found Meg. The tracks blister with attitude and grit, but the persistent monochrome grows a bit exhausting all coughed out at once. The bitter sandstorm could stand more punctuation, even if it did make Horehound less terrifying.

Meanwhile, a buried man’s guitar quakes the opening to “60 Feet Tall,” dirt still peeling off its strings. The barn fills with shredded tin, building a mountain of refuse and charred amplifiers, only to leave a sickly sinking feeling when it all suddenly falls silent. On lead single “Hang You from the Heavens,” Mosshart sings “I’d like to grab you by the hair/ And sell you off to the devil” against the sound of a big saggy-skinned bass drum getting fucked. Clad in the leather skin of Detroit blues organ on “Cut Like A Buffalo,” White approaches the microphone to threaten himself and anyone foolish enough, “You should try to take it easy on me/ Cause I don’t know how to take it.”

“Treat Me Like Your Mother” sees The Dead Weather catching the scent of their prey. Offering advice for escape as the pulse quickens, Alison and White warn “Play dead/ Play dumb/ Play straight,” as menacing, distorted Hammond organ dares you to turn around and fight. White’s lyrics thrive in the dust and sweat, injecting sluggish bar room ballad “Rocking Horse” with venom like “I wrote a nasty letter/ And I sent it to the Lord.” Formulaic whiskey-rockers “New Pony” and “Bone House” are Horehound’s low points, relying heavily on Mosshart -- though it’s White’s skuzz-pedal guitar that drag them from the bottom of the well.

Dripping with the stench of bourbon, White concludes the album slumped over a tattered acoustic. “When I set sail/ Will there be enough wind?” he asks, a metaphor for his fears of the big time. No sea chantey, just BB King in a leaky boat, “Will There Be Enough Water” sees The Dead Weather wise, if unkempt, with their final curses on the casket, all withered and jagged. When lazy sounds rough and brisk feels like the grips of insanity, you know it’s Jack White.

1. 60 Feet Tall
2. Hang You from the Heavens
3. I Cut Like a Buffalo
4. So Far from Your Weapon
5. Treat Me Like Your Mother
6. Rocking Horse
7. New Pony
8. Bone House
9. 3 Bids
10. No Hassle Night
11. Will There Be Enough Water?

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