Ever since March, when word got out that Jack White had formed a new band called The Dead Weather, I’d been anxiously awaiting the release of their debut album, Horehound. Around that time I had started regarding Mr. White as the savior of high-quality rock and roll in this era of overall musical mediocrity, so naturally my expectations were high from the start. Now that I’ve finally gotten Horehound and have listened to it, I am amazed to say that the album has exceeded those already astronomical expectations. I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive when I looked through the insert before putting on the CD (as I’ve mentioned before, the pre-listen glance through the insert is a new-CD ritual for me) and upon skimming the lyrics realized that pretty much all the songs (with the exception of “3 Birds”, which has no lyrics) have similar subject matter: almost all the songs seem to be about someone in a mutually abusive, destructive, and/or sadomasochistic relationship. I wondered if The Dead Weather’s music would be interesting enough to carry a common theme without sounding monotonous. After listening to their album a couple of times, I can confidently say that they’ve succeeded.
There was a time when I referred to The Dead Weather as “Jack White’s new band.” I have since seen the error of my ways, as this description doesn’t do the band justice. Perhaps the biggest surprise I came across whilst listening to Horehound is that Jack White, much as I revere him and his seemingly boundless talent, is not the most impressive part of The Dead Weather. Don’t get me wrong, his drumming is fantastic, and not just for a guy who’s mainly recognized as a guitarist. It’s just that, on the few opportunities that White gets to provide lead vocals (with the exception of “Will There Be Enough Water?”), he comes off as…well…kind of annoying. I’m not saying that his vocal itself is annoying; I’ve always been a fan of White’s voice and one album isn’t going to change that. But “I Cut Like a Buffalo,” on which White provides lead vocals throughout, could have been a pretty good song if it didn’t feature the sound of simulated choking, which is at best unnecessary, and at worst downright disturbing. Then there’s “Treat Me Like Your Mother” and “Rocking Horse,” on which lead vocals alternate between White and Mosshart. In the former, the verses sung by Mosshart alone are great, and the part where she and White simultaneously spell “M-A-N-I-P-U-late” is pretty good, but the “Who’s got it figured out?” rap segments of the song, performed primarily by White, are less than extraordinary. As for the latter, the only real problem I have with that one is the very fact that the lead vocals do alternate, and a bit too frequently (in the first couple of verses, the vocals are swapped every two or three lines). I honestly think the song would sound much better if only one of the two members provided the lead vocals, or at least alternated every verse instead of every few lines. But hey, that’s just me.
No, the member of the band who steals the show – quite possibly the only person who could ever upstage Jack White…well, short of Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, or Mick Jagger – is Alison Mosshart, hands down. Her vocals – which sound like the love-child of Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison – suit the band’s dark and heavy blues-rock sound perfectly. At times, the band even sounds like a modern, female-fronted equivalent of The Doors. This is especially true for the songs “So Far from Your Weapon” and “No Hassle Night.” In my humble opinion, the former is the best song on the album, with the slowly building music and threatening lyric (sample: “There’s a bullet in my pocket burnin’ a hole. / You’re so far from your weapon and the place you were born.”) meshing perfectly with Mosshart’s low, seductive lead vocal, which is complemented perfectly in a call-and-response between her and all three of the other members. Another high point on the album is the opening track, “60 Feet Tall,” in which Mosshart confidently wails to a lover who’s “cruel and shameless…cold and dangerous” that she’s up for the challenge: “I can take the trouble, / I’m 60 feet tall!” The album’s closing track, “Will There Be Enough Water?” also stands out. It’s long and slow, not as heavy as the other songs on Horehound, and reminiscent of Bob Dylan (one could even say the lyric makes reference to an early Bob Dylan song, “When the Ship Comes In.” And knowing what a huge influence Dylan has had on White, it’s probably a conscious reference). The song features Jack White on the lead vocal, singing what Jack White, after all, sings best: pure blues-rock. After the song fades out, the sound of crickets can be heard for several seconds before the album finishes completely. Quite a marvelous way to finish a great album.
Those of us who’ve waited as long for Horehound as I have were teased with a couple of singles and maybe a handful of live performances posted on YouTube while we waited. Yet the two songs that were released as singles so far (“Hang You From the Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother”), though both fairly good, don’t even begin to demonstrate how great The Dead Weather really are. If you haven’t gotten Horehound yet, and you’re into hard rock and/or blues, or are otherwise open-minded when it comes to music, I would highly recommend that you run – don’t walk – to your nearest music-selling establishment as soon as possible and get Horehound.