I ran home after work today to check the mail and I still don’t have a copy of the Dead Weather’s new album, Sea of Cowards. I guess I paid for the cheaper mail while the clever people just went for the download.
But even though I don’t have it, I know that there’s two tracks on the vinyl - well, not exactly on the vinyl per se – that I’ll have that they won’t. Because Sea of Cowards has a track pressed into the label on each side of the vinyl. Yes, it does. And those are not on the CD. (In fact I’m not sure how to play them; I’ll have to digitize them the first time around or risk either the label or my needle.)
I love this album. I’ve heard it enough in previews, and of course (boast boast) heard it played live by the band this time last week, to know how much I love it.
On the cover, the band is wearing masks. In the music, the band's wearing masks too. Last year, during Glastonbury, an interviewer asked Jack White about playing the festival in daylight. He answered, “Do we look like sun people?” And I had to answer, yes, Jack, you look like a sun person. A sun person engaged in convincing himself otherwise. I don’t think Jack’s ever put his hand to something he can’t master. A year later, he doesn’t look like a sun person. His look and his music is a bitter, midnight trek. His fellow musicians look as though only the dim putrescine luminescence of graveyards provides the crepuscular light in which they will bizarrely prosper. Alison, in particular, has become so much of a night person that she has switched species.
When I saw them at Third Man Records last week, after a few repetitions of lines like ‘crack a bone’ and “I’m going to take you for worse or better - to my little grave’ I had a clear vision of Baby Ruthless sitting on a new re-dug mound of earth strewn with splintered coffin-wood as she drove her inhuman hands into the rotten ribcage to pull out the good bits to consume, while her companions rolled in the dirt in driving rain among the headstones, fucking and caressing and yet never once getting even one particle of mud under their spotless fingernails as they quarrel about whose ivory or mahogany-sculptured necks they’d track down before dawn to sink their sharp white teeth into.
“I’m Mad. Hah,” she sings, channeling Billion Dollar Babies-era Alice Cooper. “You’re a real jawbreaker, a crook, obscene,” she says about a boyfriend. “I’d call you a heartbreaker, but I reserve that for nicer things.” Of herself, “I don’t want you to like me,” she sings. “There’s no way that you can.” The video of the single and the recent publicity stills are bright blue and green, like vivid bruises. Jack sings, “I love you so much I don’t need to exist. Dripping blue blood from my wrists.” In Old Mary, Jack intones a parody of the Hail Mary. In another, Jack tells us “Some people die in the middle. I live just fine at the top.” “Hustle and cuss, lick on the dust,” Mosshart tells us. There’s more stuff about horses, the Dead Weather’s signature animal – oddly enough, it's not a crow.
The music is perfect. It’s synthesizer driven. Jack’s vastly improved drums and Dean Fertita’s guitar drive the record but Dean lays down synth riffs that could challenge anyone. A while ago I wondered why people kept on referencing Led Zeppelin in relation to the Dead Weather. Now, I see it. There’s something about those riffs, which are no longer driving flurries of eighth notes or triplets, but complex rhythms in which the spaces between the brain-bleeding tones are as important as the notes. The gaps, the white spaces, open up the riffs to breathe, and they go on to stomp the land like Gojira. In riff terms, the Dead Weather has gone from Led Zeppelin [#1] to Presence [#6] in less than a year.
For me this is a must-buy. One of the few living R&B or blues influenced bands allowed on the internets to ply their trade.
Edit: one of the vinyl tracks is a hidden track on the CD apparently. However, hidden track is hidden.