- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Dead Weather
Third Man Records/Warner Bros

Not content to lead the White Stripes and the Raconteurs, multi-instrumentalist, producer and rock impresario Jack White has founded yet another group. The Dead Weather started as a kind of weekend lark, bringing together Mr. White with Raconteurs band mate Jack Lawrence, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age and Alison Mosshart of the Kills.

As a musician, Mr. White appears to be synthesizing curatorial and artistic impulses. He’s a revivalist of sorts, reanimating garage rock, punk, Delta blues and other genres. Yet whatever style he assays, Mr. White’s music is always cut through with a sense of menace. He seems oddly wistful for someone whose music is threatening to its audience, that hints at boundaries more indelible than the line between hip and square.

This comes through on the album’s only cover, the twangy Bob Dylan track “New Pony,” from the 1978 album “Street Legal.” Mr. White hijacks the song, transforming it into howling, electrified Son House blues, with Mr. Fertita’s guitar growling with righteous wrath. Throughout the album, Mr. Fertita plays with distortion and volume, channeling a mix of Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page but through a decidedly punk filter.

“I Cut Like a Buffalo” creates its own genre, combining a mad scientist’s organ fugue with a dance-hall reggae beat. The portentous bass line by Mr. Lawrence adds to a sense of unease that is leavened somewhat by the borderline-nonsense lyrics. Mr. White sings, “You know I look like a woman but I/cut like a buffalo.”

The techno-inspired “Bone House” plays like a death-metal take on Daft Punk. The lyrics have a children’s-song simplicity to them, even if they are touched with a bit of ghoulishness. Here and elsewhere, Mr. White shows off a keen sense of dramatic escalation, using repetitive lyrics, rhythmic acceleration and increasing volume to create a sense of rising menace.

The Dead Weather is a White project to be sure — don’t say “supergroup.” Mr. White produced the record and plays drums on all but a single cut (and guitar on just one), but the writing credits are largely shared, and there is an ensemble feel to the sound.

The distortion-heavy blues guitar Miss Mosshart brings to the Kills is in full effect on a few tracks here. Her whiskey-raw voice is positively scene-stealing on duets such as “Rocking Horse” and on her own composition, the murderous “So Far From Your Weapon.” She’s gleefully wicked on the grinding “Hang You From the Heavens,” singing from the point of view of a bored temptress. Mr. White breaks up the song with a portentous tom-tom solo that is crashed by a rhythm guitar that crackles like a live wire.

As the proprietor of his own Nashville, Tenn., studio and record label, Mr. White seems to have little impediment to maintaining his split musical personality. Maybe “Horehound” is a one-off, but with the band on tour now, another album is possible, assuming the group retains enough sinister vibrations for a slate of new songs.

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