The Dead Weather
(Third Man; 2009)
By Dom Sinacola | 31 July 2009
With Horehound, the blandest batch of music Jack White has yet been involved in, the audience is finally free to let go and move on with their better memories intact. Ignoring the prominence of singer Allison Mossheart’s chin, voice, and indefatigable cool, White is still obviously the leader of the Dead Weather—more accurately, he’s their muse: the tide pushing them together, the owner of the studio that confirmed their coexistence, the guy that told interviewers their bond had no time for consideration, that it “just was.” More viscerally: that James Bond song sucked, Icky Thump (2007) pretty much sucked, the Raconteurs consistently, satisfyingly suck, so what’s left to expect from White except something else disappointing, something else to bloat the years between Get Behind Me Satan (2005) and now? Surprisingly, Horehound doesn’t necessarily or vehemently suck, it, as if it were meant to, just is.
Which is probably the worst thing to say about a project like the Dead Weather, a collection of stringy people with stringy hair that so desperately want to rub up against your very sensitive conceptions of music as coherently mixed, of simple blues and garage melodies as any fun to listen to, or of constructive self-awareness. The Dead Weather are of course enamored with the Dead Weather—what with how they just are and other mouth diarrhea from Jack White—but I seriously doubt there is any real intention on the musicians’ part to determine if the audience is actually enjoying any of these atonal, borderline nihilistic pop songs. Which, I get, is part of a shtick as old as Jack White’s amps, but never have these musicians—especially White, though Mossheart’s Kills weren’t exactly shying from that coked out stoicism—been so swallowed by image, concept, conceit, whatever as to become, as a band all face, faceless.
The band’s main offense, at least within the close quarters of a pair of headphones, is their implementation of “collaboration”: tagged a “supergroup” or no, Horehound is mixed as flatly as it is loudly, translating supposedly fertile, improvisational Third Man studio time into a melee of half-thoughts and half-assed avant doodads. The album is all, fully, middle ground—vocals scream over one another, White (taking the drums) slaps his cymbals bluntly on top, feedback and lazy echo effects soak every bar; meanwhile, Jack Lawrence (Raconteurs buddy) and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age touring member; also from Michigan, somehow creating a connection with White where there didn’t seem to be one) alternate squalid riffs on fuzzy bass, fuzzy organ, and an electric guitar only discernible when it’s miming a rudimentary blues solo that apparently is excused because of some pedal-dipping. Forget melody, an absolute kibosh on any sort of dynamics brutalizes what would otherwise thrive in roomsound. It’s hard to enjoy a band that depends solely on mood and atmosphere but can’t let up to realize any.
Even a track as ready-made as “Cut Like a Buffalo,” which could have been sprightly given Fertita’s organ stabs slowly closing in on White’s uncharacteristically restrained hi-hat, can’t help but show off, dippling middle space with boingy nothings and that unrelenting echo, as if imagining dub in a haunted house. Following “So Far From Your Weapon” is the closest Mossheart can get to an engaging vocal performance, fingering some depth in her voice, but that quickly aborts into another cymbal-fat production nightmare. Don’t mind that, um, didgeridoo. “Treat Me Like Your Mother” then succeeds in summing up everything before and everything to follow: a blaring, quacking organ accompanies blaring, quacking Mossheart/White and their atrocious lyrics, then there’s an even squealier solo interrupted uncomfortably by White’s idea that he should enter…now.
There’s also a forgettable Bob Dylan cover and of course there’s bleating, so much bleating: croaks, chirrups, gizzards rupturing seed meal, the lyric “Is that you choking?” followed by actual choking, or a guitar’s facsimile of that (but who fucking cares because it’s still an abysmal stretch of song) snarling and spit and bodily fluids gumming up the record’s blank space like clouds of crows across an otherwise stark and enigmatic moon, what little of the blank space can scoot by unnoticed by every overzealous note this flock of a band skyshits into the inky night.
Horehound, flopping about gracelessly, is as much cygnine as it is whatever adjective applies to that asshole title (Is that some Old English? Like a frosty beagle?) and the Dead Weather, more than “perfectly terrible” as Calum so succinctly put it, is just a stupid animal, small-headed and pear-shaped with a laughable, honking vicious streak. By their very existence they deserve some attention, even some fascination, especially from a fan that refuses to give up on White, but immediately spoil any friendly curiosity by confirming within one minute of “60 Feet Tall” that I may never know how birds have sex but I’m sure it looks gross. Because if this is synergy it’s certainly together—the players seem to be having a good time being badass side by side. “3 Birds,” though it daubles dangerously close to Staind by way of Tortoise, is actually sectioned, one piece earned by the previous, each rich tone savored, examined, and left to play out. Patience, it could be said, will save this band. Or at least a touch of humility; given their affinity for the music of the dispossessed, they seem awful pleased with this shit.
So let’s take a stand—let’s give up, once and for all, on Jack White. For he’s fully invested himself in a brand of music best looked at instead of heard, moreso than any candied radio pop or designer electro, and in that skin-thin margin relegates to the drumkit as if to cut off discussions (see: bitter tirades) like this at the hilt. He denounces Guitar Hero for its, what, keeping kids from playing real instruments and writing real music (?) but hordes a harem of mostly talented poseurs with no real genre or style to imitate besides the vaguest notions of “garage,” “blues,” “goth,” “noise,” “ambient,” or “KoRn.” The sound of the Dead Weather, then, is a filthy liquid nothing made from stubborn, shameless everything, black-brown and heavy with no substance to carry. The Dead Weather makes smegma rock. It’s a squirming, nauseating label no doubt, but so is Horehound, convinced that skuzzed-up guitars and swamp blues roots demand sleaze, humidity, and grime—stylizations without heart, head, or focus, without any kind of sociological anchor, moral fervor, moral corruption, or even genuine rage to humanize the robotic Uber-sex of main players White and Mossheart—and little else. And Allison Mossheart reminds me of Geordi La Forge—but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.