The Dead Weather, Sea of Cowards

Goth-rock with a sharp sting—that's still blander than live performances.

Any new Jack White project is bound to suffer the slings and arrows of stubborn fans clamoring for a new White Stripes record.  Though rumors of a Stripes reunion hover in the music blogosphere, for now White is still chugging along with The Dead Weather, his “don’t-call-us-a-supergroup” collab with Kills frontwoman Alison Mosshart, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Jack Lawrence from White’s other side project, The Raconteurs.

Their debut album Horehound was full of psychedelic blues that sometimes tried too hard, forsaking melody and memorability for a veneer of Old Western swagger. Less than a year later, they return with Sea of Cowards, a more effects-heavy and riff-based take on their stormy Goth-rock.

For the most part, Cowards packs a sharper sting than its predecessor with 35 minutes of blistering sonic fury. Mosshart settles more deeply into the role of roadhouse banshee, spitting out lines like “I’d call you a heartbreaker, but I reserve that for nicer things” with the fury of a saloon woman scorned. When she wails “I’m Mad,” she means it in the Mad Hatter sense, punctuating each line with a burst of manic laughter. 

Whereas Horehound lost itself in an absence of hooks, songs like “Blue Blood Blues” are tightly wound and snappingly sparse, as if they’ve taken a page from Mosshart’s band The Kills. White and Lawrence make for a gut-punching rhythm section on the slither and blister of "I Can't Hear You" and “No Horse.” Fertita, who has the unenviable task of playing guitar in a band Jack White is in, nonetheless contributes squealing solos that rub the record raw. The four all fuse nicely on first single "Die by the Drop," a Mosshart-White vocal tradeoff set against raucous music that sounds like you're playing successive 30-second iTunes samples of the entire Led Zeppelin catalogue. 

If you’ve seen the band live, you’ll realize that The Dead Weather's largest flaw is the disparity between their pummeling live performances and their blander studio albums. At a live show, Mosshart's prowling stage antics and White's fill-heavy drumming dredge up the full grunt of the music, but the studio version of “Hustle and Cuss,” for example, is too slow and hushed to pack the same blues assault.

As fans of White’s other bands will be quick to point out, The Dead Weather is often prone to murkiness. At their worst, they sound like a sludgy imitation of blues clichés, perhaps a Led Zeppelin tribute band (the vocals on "Gasoline") or more distressingly, like Limp Bizkit covering Deep Purple (a rap-rock tinge on "Old Mary"). But for the most part, Cowards’ collection of muscled blues songs reveals White and Co.’s tighter grip on this horse of a different color.

Jessica Misener can be found online at



Anonymous reviewed…

I've got to respectfully disagree with the above comment. A live show is a multi-sensory experience. The lights, the crowd mouthing the words, the smell of the club. And even the sound is usually better (to see why, check out "the loudness war" on youtube). Bands that consistantly create an amazing live show do sometimes dissapoint on albums. Family Force 5 is a great just can't put what that band does on a record. Although I've never seen them live, my guess is that Arcade Fire is the same way. Conversely, there are bands that write great songs, but can't seem to translate it to a great live show, like The Format/Fun.



Matthew reviewed…

At the same time, most live albums are REALLY disappointing. I prefer studio recording. The recent live White Stripes album sucked, in my humble opinion.

Dakota Waldroop


Dakota Waldroop reviewed…

I agree. The new live White Stripes album was nearly unlistenable.



joshuabarnett reviewed…

I would say Mute Math is a great example of a band who sounds/looks great live but makes boring records. I've seen them 5 or 6 times but haven't listened to an album in...well, over a year.


White Veneers reviewed…

I like this article! Will come again next time for
sure, thank again

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