The bar’s been raised, Jack White and company adding funk to their gumbo of influences.
Alex Denney 2010
The Dead Weather’s first album offered ammunition aplenty for those disinclined to doff their caps to Jack White’s alleged genius. Cobbled together in little more than two weeks on the back of jamming sessions with rock star chums Alison ‘The Kills’ Mosshart, Queens of the Stone Age’s Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence of White’s own Raconteurs, Horehound was a largely unlovable affair that shaded White’s ever-present Zep-ophilia with hints of voodoo hokum and – gasp – nu-metal. It was, in truth, some of the ugliest music The White Stripes frontman had ever put his name to.
But maybe this gloomiest of supergroups just needed a little longer stewing in the gumbo pot of their southern gothic influences, because Sea of Cowards works hard to dispel those not-unjustified notions of The Dead Weather being Jack White’s third-best band. What’s even stranger is that they appear to have succeeded, in spite of the fact 80% of the record proceeds from a fairly lumpen blues template which at first glance would seem to suggest a continued dearth of inspiration.
Blue Blood Blues is the first clue that the bar’s been raised here. Musically it sounds like a funky twist on the staccato end of the Stripes’ songbook, squelchy guitar accents indulging the taste for kitschy sound effects that has crept into White’s latter-day output. Lyrically, it finds Detroit’s pastiest son spitting devious rhymes as bone-shakingly good as “shake your hips like battleships / all the white girls trip when I sing that Sunday service”. The funk influence is even more marked on the Mosshart-sung Hustle and Cuss, a sultry strut that clings like sweaty shirt fabric and sounds a lot like early Funkadelic. Not the most natural of links, perhaps, but one they return to throughout and to great effect.
Die by the Drop is all dark sparks and skulduggery between White and Mosshart; along with the malignant synths of The Difference Between Us it's as close as The Dead Weather comes to pop (read: not that close). I’m Mad rather soberingly suggests Jon Spencer turned evil dentist in an underground lair. Ironic, really, given that Spencer’s reanimated blues shtick was supposedly rendered obsolete by White’s first band. What exactly are we to make of this? Added to the fact that Sea of Cowards is distinctly one-paced, boorish, and industrious as opposed to bravura, it should add up to one giant backwards step, right? Thing is, when you’ve got the likes of Jawbreaker and No Horse rocking as hard as Ron Asheton’s freshly-dug grave dirt, it feels like anything but.