The Dead Weather

Horehound

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AllMusic Review by

Expectations for a project featuring members of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Kills, and Queens of the Stone Age would almost have to run high. After all, these are all bands that find ways to draw on the classic tenets of rock without sounding completely indebted to the past. Yet the Dead Weather -- which combines the talents of Jack White, Jack Lawrence, Alison Mosshart, and Dean Fertita -- aren't so much concerned with living up to expectations as they are about defying them. There's a different kind of alchemy on Horehound than on any of the bandmembers' other projects. Not only does White returns to his first instrument, the drums, he also trades in the high-pitched yelp he uses with the Stripes and Raconteurs for a deeper, at-times unrecognizable, voice on "I Cut Like a Buffalo," the lone Horehound track he wrote by himself. The Dead Weather's sound isn't so much heavy as it is thick with a tense atmosphere that's sustained throughout most of the album, and the group shuns the tighter structures of their other bands for a bluesy, jammy grind. Horehound's opening track, "60 Feet Tall," shows just how explosive this sound can be, from the teasing guitars and percussion that begin it to its lunging climax. Sexual tension is one of the few constants between the Dead Weather and White and Mosshart's other bands, and they use it particularly well on "Hang You from the Heavens" and "Treat Me Like Your Mother," where their vocals and the lyrics "left, right, left, right" suggest a dance, or a fight, or something in between. Despite all the star power in this project, Mosshart's vocals are the main attraction: she snarls, croons, and sighs, displaying all the charisma she has in the Kills plus more nuance. She takes her voice to places she hasn't explored with her main project: "So Far from Your Weapon," which she wrote on her own, boasts an hypnotic groove and an oddly jazzy undercurrent, thanks to her smoky singing and White's rolling drums. Indeed, her voice and White's are usually the loudest elements on the album, with Fertita and Lawrence ably filling in the gaps between the pair's towering presences. Horehound's loose-limbed immediacy often feels like a particularly inspired rehearsal, especially on the cover of Bob Dylan's "New Pony," which gets amped up with huge grungy riffs and shouted backing vocals. This looseness also allows the band to indulge flights of fancy like the instrumental "3 Birds" and "Rocking Horse"'s menacing surf-jazz. However, the Dead Weather's chemistry fizzles on the more unfocused tracks, and as gripping as their sound is, it can get claustrophobic. The songs that break from the pack are among the best. "Bone House" layers programmed and live drums with creepy falsetto vocals and some great guitar work from Fertita, and "Will There Be Enough Water?"'s drifting acoustic blues provides the calm after Horehound's storm. Given the fact that the Dead Weather formed on a whim and recorded these songs in a matter of weeks, Horehound is a compelling album, and one that shows that the band's members bring out the best in each other, albeit in unexpected ways.

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