Bri Blahg… I Won’t Let Jack White Manipulate Me… I Won’t Let Jack White Manipulate Me

15 07 2009

by Brian Phillips (@BrianBlahg)

dead_weather

Here’s how it would go down if you went grocery shopping with Jack White: You have your list scrawled on the back of a credit card company come-on envelope. Check book, already balanced, back pocket, Jack White, jeans empty, shotgun. You even ask Jack White if he wants to add anything to your list. “Nah” Jack White says. Jack White doesn’t need anything. Cart in hand strolling down the aisles, Jack White follows two and a half steps behind silent, blithely taking in the ice cream cone boxes, clam juice, and varieties of hot house tomatoes. Returning home from the grocery store you begin to put the groceries away and realize you’ve purchased nothing from your list. You managed to unknowingly fill your shopping cart with only things Jack White would have purchased for himself.

The point of all this of course is that as much as I’ve enjoyed Jack White’s company the past decade or so, I have never escaped the feeling that he’s been manipulating us. With an ever so slight Mona Lisa smirk he lied about Meg White being his sister, and knowing the truth, we continued to believe it anyway. We told each other that White Stripes records were unearthed outside an old sharecropper shack in Greenville, Mississippi though our right minds knew it to be a lie. We feted The Racontuers as we would a super group knowing all the while that the only “super” in the band was Jack White. Didn’t matter.

Now Jack White has taken one of The Racontuers, a Queen Of The Stone Age, and Kills singer Alison Mosshart and formed The Dead Weather. Five minutes later we were hardcore fans. Hell the headline tour was routed and tickets sold seemingly before we were even sure what exactly Jack White’s connection was to the whole enterprise. For all we knew he was the album’s second engineer, or the tour lighting designer. Maybe he was never there at all. Didn’t matter.

Reviewing The Dead Weather’s debut “Horehound” then is to start by assuming the album is brilliant; a jaw dropping, five star, gatefold classic. Not even an album really, but rather an eighth sea teeming with the blues, soul, and whatever else Jack White set his mind to mastering. And so I am a bit crestfallen when I tell you “Horehound” is really rather mediocre. That’s not to say it’s bad, just….. Perhaps expectations were out of line.

The tracks that work best are the ones that allow Mosshart to be the mountain witch depicted on the album’s cover. The album’s opener “60 Feet Tall” leads me to think of P.J. Harvey’s “60 Foot Queenie.” If Harvey fronted Led Zeppelin we wouldn’t be far off here anyway. The guitar from Stone Age player Dean Fertita and overdriven bass courtesy Jack Lawrence (Raconteurs/Greenhornes) propel the song sufficiently to make up for a bit of meandering.

“Hang You From The Heavens” is the sound of a girl who walked over the bodies of discarded lovers until she meets her match.

“I’d like to grab you by the hair and take you to the devil”

She’d like to, but it ain’t gonna happen. White pounds his answer, almost using her head for the crash cymbal. He knows she’s as helpless before him as the rest of us. The drooling riff is dirt simple and emphasizes the picture I get of Mosshart stomping around the kitchen in defeat.

“I Cut Like A Buffalo” is steps from a hip hop song built around Jamaican dub colors and musty Lee Michaels keyboard bluster. It just lays there unfortunately as does the call and response gospel blues “So Far From Your Weapon.” Mosshart needed to cut loose a bit on that one, but passes.

A title like “Treat Me Like Your Mother” of course conjures all sorts of unhealthy images. It’s a rocker all right, but instead of a twisted Oedipus wreck we get something approximating Rage Against The Machine.

Though “Rocking Horse” is sauced up Spaghetti Western, it is perhaps the closest thing on “Horehound” to a latter period White Stripes outtake.

I rather like The Dead Weather’s take on Bob Dylan’s “New Pony” though. It’s as close as we’ll get to Blue Cheer covering Dylan and that sounds like good fun now doesn’t it. Mosshart almost comes off as Glen Danzig on this one and I enjoy her muscling about.

And from there “Horehound” peters out. “Bone House” has Mosshart aping Lil Kim of all people. A throwaway instrumental (“3 Birds”), a song I’ve already forgotten (“No Hassle Night”) and “Will There Be Enough Water?” close things out. I wish they sounded as though they cared enough to find the answer.

My disappointment apparent, I’d nonetheless like The Dead Weather to try again someday after really taking the time to find their strengths. A good place to start would be better songs. (Yeah no shit really). On “Horehound” they seem to have decided to make a record based on the idea that these four people ought to make a record. I agree that they do, and they can… Just try again.

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3 responses

6 09 2009
Travis

Ok so I have just one question for you……….Who is Jack White? You make him sound like a god but I have no clue who that is…….

14 09 2009
Palestra Music Blog

[…] I’ve stated previously, I’m a fan of Jack White, but I can’t get away from the feeling he’s […]

16 10 2009
Bri Blahg… Smile Jim, Hello Lima… Music News Round Up 10/16/09 « Palestra Music Blog

[…] Coverage. Here’s my review of the first Dead Weather record. The band has potential, but the debut seemed a bit unfocused to […]

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