One of my most highly respected musician friends once told me that music should be hard for you; When the parts get too easy they should either be changed or the way they are performed should be altered in such a way as to make them increasingly difficult to pull off. In this way the musician is constantly pushing himself, furthering his skills, extending his creative boundaries, or at least staying more focused/engaged on his performances.
Jack White conveyed a similar philosophy in recent film, “Under Great White Northern Lights,” which documented the White Stripes’ 2007 tour of Canada. In the movie White discusses spreading out the instruments and mics in his stage setup to make them more difficult to move between during performances. When it gets too easy he moves them just beyond arms reach so that he is constantly having to work hard and push himself.
With that foundation in place, The Dead Weather’s new album Sea of Cowards becomes the musical equivalent of the cotton gin: it gets the job done –perhaps even loads more efficiently—but without all the toil and care of picking cotton by hand. The group is simply too good for their own good. With 4 alpha players the resulting outcome will either be a visceral product born of ego-clashing, constant head-butting, and a grinding recording process that culminates in a brilliant fusion of skill and passion, or in the case of The Dead Weather (and nearly every other supergroup that has ever existed) the result is four super-talents settling to do a quarter of the work.
Unlike the group’s debut Horehound, the tracks for were written during jam sessions on the road and feverishly recorded during open dates in their busy tour schedule. And when tracks are fleshed-out this way, in lieu of relying on a mastermind with some sort of creative vision, the overall arrangements suffer. Jamming situations are where old standbys are often relied on far too often, far too many Zeppelin-esque blues progressions and pentatonic minor scales abound, riffs and chords are dwelled on for too long –all things handled far more adroitly by fellow supergroup Them Crooked Vultures. Of course that is probably not fair as they have the distinct advantage of actually having a former Zeppelin member in their midst.
And while it is not a bad album by any stretch –“Blue Blood Blues” is quite catchy, “Jawbreaker” has all the grit and punch of their live show, “Gasoline” features Mosshart singing with more balls than I’ve ever heard from White (or most men for that matter)—there is not necessarily anything “super” about it, per se. Then there is the album closer “Old Mary,” which pairs Spanish guitar and haunting piano tinkling behind a fire and brimstone sermon by White that lies somewhere between pastor and traveling salesman, making lyrics like, “Old Mary, sister of mine, mother to the world/Carry this burden now until the moment of your last breath,” all the more evocative.
MP3: Dead Weather - Hustle and Cuss