wears the trousers magazine

the dead weather: horehound (2009)


The Dead Weather
Horehound •
Columbia / Third Man

Gone are the days when the term ‘supergroup’ was remotely meaningful and applied to such goldmines of talent as Crosby, Stills & Nash or Emerson, Lake & Palmer. It seems that this hugely subjective label is now increasingly applied to almost all collectives formed of relatively famous band members on their day, month or year off. The latest and most lauded in quite some time are The Dead Weather, who pitch their circus tent and climb the highwire of hype with a band formed out of a Raconteurs gig gone wrong. You will probably have heard the story already, but in case you haven’t, a redux: Jack White lost his voice and Alison Mosshart of The Kills stepped up to fill in on the mic; out of this sprang the idea for The Dead Weather in which Ms Mosshart assumes the role of frontwoman while White ditches the guitar and takes rather successfully to the drums. Enter fellow Ractonteur Jack Lawrence and Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age on bass and guitar respectively, and a new musical entity was born. The band have a clear agenda on this provocatively titled debut: Horehound is about bluesy rock of the fuzzy and distorted variety. This is no bad thing in itself, but sadly what unfolds is an album of less than memorable toe-tappers that rarely hit the authentic intensity associated with the best of the genre.

Latest single ‘Treat Me Like Your Mother’ is a cheeky oedipal rocker that turns out to have very little to say for itself with lazy, vapid lyrics (“You came up, too late / play dumb, play dead, play straight”) and only rises above dullness due to the mid-song shift in tempo that, despite a crashing elevation in noise, ultimately lifts it to nowhere special. The same problems occur with ’60 Feet Tall’ and debut single ‘Hang You From The Heavens’. Here, the heavy distortion and chugging bass can do nothing to mask the sickening lyrical clichés at work, perhaps the worst offender being “I must tap your evil well / ‘cos boy, do you come roaring like a bat out of hell” – how did that get past the editing stage? ‘I Cut Like A Buffalo’ is a little more interesting, despite sounding suspiciously like a less psychedelic early Beck as it shifts slightly from the faux-Zeppelin posturing to a White-led hands-in-the-air rap groover.

Overall, there is little here that could be considered memorable or progressive in its approach to the blues-rock genre. ‘Will There Be Enough Water’ is probably the most straightforward, and in some ways the most telling, track on the album. In what could have been a stirring and spooky closer, Mosshart and White instead plod along together calling out, “Will there be enough water? When my ship comes in”. The stripped down production reveals a shocking lack of any kind of substance, a deficit that is apparent across the entire album but worse when dragged out over six minutes without the earlier bombastic instrumentation to thump out the completely banal. 

Aside from confirming that the overrated Jack White is more concerned with imitating his influences than in pushing musical boundaries, Horehound also begs the question: who and what is Alison Mosshart? A leather jacket with lips? A Primark PJ? Certainly more wet weekend than Dead Weather. Horehound confirms what was always suspected, that Ms Mosshart is an uninspiring frontwoman with a flat, middle-range voice that does not sit well with the guttural, feral demands of blues-rock. In The Kills her lack of any discernable talent is at least in keeping with the band’s music-lite hipster demeanour; however, when placed against The Dead Weather’s heavy, sludgy attempt at punky southern blues, her approach (which can best be described as “and now I will growl…a little”) does not hold up. There are dozens of female artists out there, such as Black Mountain’s Amber Webber, who are capable of delivering this material with the passion and power that it deserves.

The question is whether or not Horehound deserves any kind of recognition at all. It differs very little from that which is produced by unsigned and session bands all over. In fact, the whole record has the air of musicians playing around in the studio in the most hackneyed manner. Must this attract instant credibility due to its star roster? This is a question that will remain open as long as the term ‘supergroup’ is bandied around. What is clear is that The Dead Weather offer up an album that is everything that authentic rock music tries not to be: trivial, unfocused, and ultimately disposable.

Chris Catchpole
UK release date: 13/07/09; www.thedeadweather.com


‘Hang You From The Heavens’

‘Will There Be Enough Water?’


6 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I disagree. I think this is the one the best LPs I have heard in a long long time. It’s sounds awesome on vinyl too as it is analogue. Makes a change from the usual computer recordings of new bands that are all “note on” & pitch perfect & sound so false.

Comment by Dom

couldn’t agree more about analogue recordings – big fans of that whole ethos here. that’s one thing in this album’s favour.

Comment by Wears The Trousers magazine

Jeeeeez. I’m yet to have a listen, but I never thought I’d see the day Pitchfork gave a higher rating to a record than you…

Comment by richaod

haha! at first I thought Chris might have been a little harsh but, no, I found it limp and unimpressive in pretty much every way and have to agree with his assessment. interested to know what you think – come back and tell us!

Comment by Wears The Trousers magazine

I could not disagree with you more. I don’t understand how you can label ‘Horehound’ as unmemorable, it is undeniably one of the best records to come out this year. Alison Mosshart’s stage presence is insane and for you to write she has no talent is laughable.

Comment by Erin

[…] Steele 5/8] 14 Ebony Bones – Bone Of My Bones [Martyn Clayton, 9/7] 15 The Dead Weather – Horehound [Chris Catchpole 14/7] 16 Julie Peel – Near The Sun [Charlotte Richardson Andrews 1/9] 17 Sarah […]

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