Colors are a recurring theme in Jack White’s oeuvre. The White Stripes are defined by the candy coated colors of red and white. It is a reflection of the joyful garage rock they play, bringing the music back to its simplest form. The Dead Weather is the flipside of The White Stripes. Jack White is a man dressed in black, and the music is a shade darker than usual.
Like White’s other side project, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather is a real band. White is joined by Allison Mosshart of The Kills, Dean Furtita of Queens of the Stone Age, along with his Raconteurs running buddy Jack Laurence. The music isn’t totally removed from the traditional White Stripes sound. If you heard “Treat Me Like Your Mother” without seeing the entire package, it would be easy to mistake it as an Icky Thump b-side.
Image should be secondary when reviewing an album, but it is a major part of the Dead Weather. The band is all in black, they wear thick Ray-Ban sunglasses, and play vintage Gresch style guitars. It’s clear that they are going for a Velvet Underground/Factory/Max’s Kansas City vibe. Mosshart fits perfectly. She radiates the dangerous sexuality of the era. On “Hang You From the Heavens,” she barks “I wanna take you by the hand…” then whispers, “And hang you up from the heavens,” as protopunk style guitars blast behind her. Mosshart fills the femme fatale role that Nico played on the first Velvet Underground record, but she is much more than window dressing. Her commanding presence elevates The Dead Weather into something more than another Jack White solo project.
One of the most interesting aspects of the album is how much Mosshart sounds like Jack White. Their duet on “Cut Like a Buffalo” is one of the most intriguing parts of the album. Almost every male/female duet follows the same formula; the male provides the foundation and the female sings the harmony. White and Mosshart are harmonizing, but it doesn’t sound that way. They are both singing in the exact same monotone. Mosshart sings slightly higher than White, so it’s the only way you can tell them apart. It’s a duet that rewards you for paying attention.
Horehouse isn’t perfect. One of the biggest mistakes was putting White behind the drum kit. White isn’t a bad drummer, but the drums never match the power of the guitars and organ. The album loses focus towards the end, especially on the instrumental “3 Birds.” “3 Birds” is only three and a half minutes long, but it doesn’t go anywhere. It sounds like the band was screwing around in the studio, and decided to fill some space. The stoned-out jam doesn’t fit with the heavy slabs of neo-protopunk.
The most admirable thing about Jack White is his ability to change. However, The Dead Weather is the first Jack White project that feels a little contrived. Unfortunately, Max’s Kansas City is long gone, no matter how much you try to channel Lou Reed. The good far outweighs the bad though. How can you say no to Allison Mosshart?