Jack White appears to still have that Midas touch, as he takes the Detroit tradition of seemingly being in 100 different bands at the same time to an international level. That's an exaggeration, of course. This is only White's third "official" band since becoming a rock star — the Dead Weather being an "indie" supergroup of sorts, featuring vocalist Alison Mosshart from the Kills, as well as White's Raconteurs bass partner Jack Lawrence and one of his major Detroit guitar peers, Dean Fertita. For his part, the quartet's biggest superstar remains somewhat more in the background, mostly beating the drums behind the band, although he did produce the disc as well as co-write many of the songs. He also handles lead vocals on one track and duets with Mosshart on a few others.
White is digging especially deep into his blues roots this time out, and as the LP's title suggests, he's still drawing on a lot of the Robert Johnson folklore that has always gone hand in hand with this musical genre. In other words, it's music for friends of the devil ... and a musical literature in which women are frequently portrayed as castrating daughters, or at least agents, of the charismatic beast. "I'd like to grab you by the hair and drag you to the devil!" Mosshart snarls on "Hang You from the Heavens," the album's second song, thereby setting the direction and tone of the entire album; later, she's waiting for a pony named Lucifer on an almost unrecognizable cover of Dylan's "New Pony." The overriding theme here ain't subtle; neither is the music, which could hardly be described as "pleasant." If its psychedelic psycho-blues rawk owes anything to Zeppelin, as some pundits claim, it would be the very late, much less hook-friendly Zeppelin.
White does prove himself to be a superb drummer in a Keith Moon-ish vein. Those who didn't know better and heard this blindly might also think the monster guitar riffage featured throughout is White not Fertita. And let's just suffice it to say that Mosshart does a much different shtick here than she does with the more artsy Kills, providing a sinister, deadpan, "I'm so bored" delivery that gels perfectly with the music's moody mode. Unfortunately, though, purely from the standpoint of songcraft, Dead Weather is frankly too much dead weight.
Many tracks come on like skeletons of unfinished songs. It's reasonable to assume that most of this music probably kills onstage where the drama (and musicianship) can be drawn out for all it's worth. But too much of this is a snore as a pure listening experience. "Hang You from the Heavens," for instance, has a guitar blurt that's reminiscent of the very famous one on Nirvana's "Smells like Teen Spirit," only without the hooks and melody. Hell, "3 Birds" is nothing but an instrumental jam sans lyrics. It ain't "bad"; nothing here really is — and stuff like the Dylan cover actually grows on you after several listens (it's probably better than the bard's original version on Street Legal). But when it comes to rock instrumentals, it ain't "Moby Dick" or "Frankenstein," either. In fact, only the catchy surf-rock-meets-'60s-spy-flick glory of "Rocking Horse" offers a hook that'll linger in one's memory with any sort of excitement or fondness long after the disc has ended.
Of course, hanging with Lucifer or one of his gals probably isn't a pleasant thing overall, when push comes to shove and things become "literal." Maybe that's the point. Nevertheless, all things considered, the Dead Weather probably isn't good enough in the long run to justify even one soul getting sold at those legendary crossroads.
The Dead Weather plays Friday, July 24, at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-961-5451.
Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].