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The Dead Weather “Horehound” Review

Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: , , .

A select number of video editors make their living from re-cutting films into two minute promotional trailers. It’s their job to hook the viewer by presenting them with an excerpt of footage that will entice them to want to see more. Likewise, it’s the sign of a good marketer to do something similar with records and their singles. When the Dead Weather dropped “Hang You From the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother” a few weeks apart in May, the band created a giant stir that was greeted by an equally massive response of “we want to hear more.” But the hand-picked songs stand as outliers amongst the album’s 11 tracks. Their early release wasn’t deceptive to the point of “the only funny parts of the movie are in the trailer,” but the two songs embellish the primal urgency that the entire album was supposedly to convey. For good or bad, they don’t reflect who the band is.

Since the initial announcement of the Dead Weather, much has been made of Horehound being simply another Jack White creation. And while the complexion of the record reflects aspects of White’s past work, Horehound is anything but just another branch from the White Stripes tree. Aside from the two previously mentioned tracks, the Dead Weather focus on creating music that sounds closer to a filthy, unshaven, distant relative of the blues. And there is no better example of this sound than with Horehound’s lead track, “60 Feet Tall.”

Guitarist Dean Fertita and vocalist Alison Mosshart carry the album’s introduction, balancing Mosshart’s deep throated rumblings with Fertita’s mixture of eruptive wails and leisurely grooves. While the song carries itself as a mucky blues-ridden escape, with Fertita’s influence it still expels any doubt that the album will be anything but a sonic adventure, especially as it leads into the powerful “Hang You From the Heavens.” “Heavens” is largely comprised of Jack White’s jagged drums meshing with Fertita’s bent licks, though Mosshart’s typically smoky vocals guide it from start to finish. Even after listening to the track on non-stop repeat when it was first released, it still retains an especially crisp and refreshing sound—one that is later revisited with the album’s second single “Treat Me Like Your Mother.”

Following the organ-driven “I Cut Like A Buffalo,” the only song on the record solely written by White, comes what might be the album’s most representative track: “So Far From Your Weapon;” the only song on the record solely written by Mosshart. “Weapon” is a brooding call and response that is continually on the verge of exploding, eventually concluding by fading away into White’s distant symbols. It reflects aspects of each song on the record while still retaining a sense of individuality.

One of the most deceptive aspects to Horehound is the intensity of the record’s ebbs and flows. Just as there becomes a sense that the band has settled into a sound, or a pattern, the band flips the script and something unexpected is tossed into the mix. It’s a bitch as far as consistency is concerned, but it makes for an exciting listen. As the energy of the album is toned down with “Weapon,” “Treat Me Like Your Mother” raises the bar again, only to find a middle ground on the following track, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “New Pony.”

Originally released on Dylan’s 1978 album Street-Legal, ”New Pony” reintroduces Fertita’s sludgy wail, with the band adding back-up vocals (shouts, really) to Mosshart’s wild snarl. Though it retains a bit of the original’s twangy twist, if there were ever a Dylan cover to sound less like Dylan than this, it doesn’t come to mind.

Following “Bone House,” in which Mosshart takes on a peculiar riot grrl tone, comes one of the most unusual turns on the record: the instrumental track “3 Birds.” The song builds on an eerily distorted guitar before a churning organ kicks in over rumbling drums, eventually fading out the same way it faded in. “3 Birds” is rare in that it almost comes off as though the band has let its guard down—the track has no real hook and is equally as playful as it is serious. Reading too much into it, one might think that the song represents the band as a whole: enjoyable, and musically solid, but lacking any real direction.

After the fuzzy “No Hassle Night,” the album concludes with “Will There Be Enough Water?” The song might be Horehound’s closest link to White and bassist Jack Lawrence’s Raconteurs in that it slightly mimics the final song from the band’s album Consoler of the Lonely. The Raconteurs’ “Carolina Drama” is Jack White’s best storytelling effort on the 2008 release; musically it’s a song that trudges along, touching on aspects of the blues, gospel and rock. “Will There Be Enough Water?” does something similar in that it lends the six minute track a sluggish pace to match White and Mosshart’s oh-so-bluesy lyrics, “Just because you caught me, does that make it a sin?” Though not as detailed a story as “Carolina Dream,” it carries the album out with downtrodden lyrics and a song that is unlike any other on the record.

For all of the inconsistencies throughout the album, “Will There Be Enough Water?” offers the most authentic tone on Horehound. It sounds less like a band trying to create something that is the sum of its parts, as with the album’s two singles, and more like a group of musicians simply playing to their instincts. Had “Will There Be Enough Water?” been offered as the first release from the album, Horehound would ultimately still sound nothing like it’s “trailer,” but it might have better prepared listeners for the highs and lows that would follow. Horehound is a record that is as hard to place as the band itself, but one that conclusively depicts a collection of brilliant musicians trying to do something together that strays from their respective norms. Unfortunately however, the sum of their efforts comes off as weaker than each of the band’s unique parts.

[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]