As ever, the art of presentation hasn’t been lost on Jack White. The name of his latest side-project, the title of their debut album and the cover artwork tell you much of what to expect within. This is dark, primal bluesy rock music, wicked and nasty; dirty and thick; and brimming with just a hint of suppressed violence.
White has become something of a poster boy for the preservation of the record as an art form – from the imagery its title and artwork provoke; through to its tracklisting and old-school -play-out as an album’ ethos. As such, he’s retaliated in part against modernity through the launch of his Third Man Records imprint and subsequent Nashville record store where vinyl-only singles and limited edition records have become the norm in a bid, White says, to maintain the -magic’ of owning physical copies of the music.
Yet, he’s also been quick to embrace modernity in the speed of which it allows music to go from production to consumption. As with The Raconteurs, speed has been key with The Dead Weather from their first impromptu jams in January of this year, through to their debut live appearance in Nashville last March and the release of Horehound last month. It’s this speed however, which has become the undoing of their debut.
Yes, there’s much here to salivate over. With a band culled from some of the US’s dirtiest rock acts – Alison Mosshart (The Kills) on vocals; Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age) on guitars; Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes) on bass and White returning to his first instrument, drums – you expect, and get, consistently sublime playing from musicians of real pedigree.
They rip through the material, which oozes industrial garage sweating with the late 60s blues of say, Led Zeppelin. The Cramps and Detroit’s The Stooges are also in the mix, and in honesty it draws from all the records you’d expect from a Jack White stamped LP. Yet, through its White’s hands twiddling the production knobs to awe-inspiring effect, this isn’t all his work. Mosshart and Ferita are the song-writing brains behind the opening two tracks and, though White contributes to seven of the 11 tracks, the majority are collaborative efforts.
Opener ’60 Feet Tall’ is all slow, dangerous aggression with a dirty bluesy attitude; White and Lawrence’s awesome rhythm section the sensational powerhouse in driving the tune along. Indeed, it’s rhythm that pulls the record together with melody perhaps an afterthought given the speed at which the songs were conceived and given birth.
If White’s playing chops are all over the rhythm section, then they too control the production. Everything here – from simple guitar licks, to vocal trade offs and cymbal crashes – sounds crisp, clear and oddly beautiful without loosing any of the ragged grime and sleaze injected into the playing. This is no more the case than on debut single -Hang You From The Heavens’ or the fun, funk-touches of -I Cut Like A Buffalo’, which brings White to front of house on vocal duties where he trades sound bites and licks with Mosshart to stand-out effect.
As mentioned however, the speed of which White and co went about the record is its undoing and about half-way through the songs begin to lose their appeal. -Rocking Horse’, a Mosshart and White collaboration, which sees them both tackle vocal duties, sounds loose and unfinished and perhaps a casualty of the speed of production. Were it not for the group’s aforementioned production and playing chops, this would sound little advanced than a demo, concluding with no little lackluster and sounding as if the well of ideas has ran dry.
The lack of inspiration continues into -No Hassle Tonight’, which too would have benefited from more creative time, its holes merely papered over with lashings of distortion. A cover of Dylan’s -New Pony’ however is as great as you’d expect from players of this calibre, with the original deconstructed beyond recognition.
The fact a cover is here however is again suggestive of a downturn in creativity and, while closer -Will There Be Enough Water’ sees a shift to acoustic guitars and piano for a tune in keeping with the album’s unhinged beauty, it once more leans closer to an incomplete studio outtake than something worthy of bedding onto an album.
In fusing together White’s delight in the old-school methods of making records with the pace of the modern world, he’s come up short. The attention to detail has fallen in the wrong places, and while yes, it is tempting to buy into the romantic ideal of catching a certain moment as fresh and unvarnished as possible, it’s perhaps of more aural value for White and his cohorts than the listener. There is much too love here from the production to the playing to such fine cuts as -Treat Me Like your Mother’ and -I Cut Like A Buffalo’, but as introductions go a six-piece EP would have better sufficed. Still, their forthcoming UK live shows should prove sublime and may even (hopefully) see a creative reinvigoration of the lesser songs here.