The Dead Weather - Horehound

Album Review by Chris Buckle | 09 Jul 2009
  • The Dead Weather - Horehound
Album title: Horehound
Artist: The Dead Weather
Label: Columbia/Third Man Records
Release date: 13 July

It’s natural that Jack White has dominated discussions of the Dead Weather. With two bands already under his command, the unveiling of a new blues-rock combo featuring his talents was inevitably seen as just another outlet for its ringleader’s voluminous talents. Some commentators have weakly bandied around the ‘supergroup’ tag to highlight the presence of The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita, but regardless, most will come to The Dead Weather with White‘s career as their guide, anticipating an album timed to replace The White Stripes (till Meg returns to work) and the Raconteurs (while Brendan Benson goes solo again).

A first listen won’t really challenge this opinion. The distorted guitar underpinning much of Horehound revels in the same old-school blues riffs that have always influenced White’s style, and only Mosshart’s seductive vocals distinguish some songs from the likes of Icky Thump. Except that a) The White Stripes and The Raconteurs have never sounded quite so filthy and b) that ain't White playing guitar. If White drives the Dead Weather, he does so from the drum stool rather than centre stage, his drumming carrying a great deal more weight than your average Meg paradiddle. Guitar duties are handled by Fertita, as are the voodoo-Doors-esque organ lines that help give tracks like So Far From Your Weapon their fuzzy, skuzzy atmosphere, while credit goes to Jack Lawrence (of the Greenhornes/Raconteurs) for the rattling bass lines gracing Rocking Horse et al.  

And then there’s Mosshart, specialising in two types of vocals on Horehound. The sultry delivery of the first will be familiar to any Kills fans, all sighs, wails and pouting attitude (see opener 60 Feet Tall and New Poney, amongst others). The second type is best exemplified by Cut Like A Buffalo, a peculiar beast which marries reggae-syncopation with Ray Manzarek-like organ to produce the album’s one genuine diversion from the band members’ various day jobs. Here the vocals are layered and multiple (White may be relegated to the back of the stage, but that doesn’t keep him schtum), not so much in harmony as bellowed together in a vaguely similar register. It's a style that just about works on Buffalo but which sounds uncomfortably close to 90s rap rock cliché on Treat Me Like Your Mother.

So it turns out that Jack White’s new band isn’t ‘his’ at all – it’s a co-op, with all four of its members claiming ownership over its successes but also sharing liability for its occasional failures. Some tracks peter out long before their running time expires; others simply rehash old ideas. But the Dead Weather is the sum of its parts in the best way possible – four skilled musicians working together without anyone (i.e. Mr White) dominating.  If the band prove to be temporary, then they deserves more than pithy dismissal as a side-project, or a footnote in White’s career. Chances are, unfortunately, that’s exactly the short shrift they’ll receive.