By David A. Bene
One of the drawbacks to the assembling of so-called ‘supergroups’ is that the entity and its constituent parts tend to overshadow the ‘product’, however impressive that product may be. It seems to be an unavoidable conundrum that can only be overcome by a consistently good output that can make people forget who it is in favor of what it is. In the case of The Dead Weather, we appear to have a band that has accomplished just that on their third album, the steaming Dodge and Burn.
Since bursting onto the scene five years ago, The Dead Weather has been a band that has left critics grasping for the right words to describe their music. Their sound has variously been described as ‘grimy’, ‘whiskey-tinged’, ‘sludge’, ‘southern goth’, ‘blooze’, ‘Zepplinesque’ and in an obvious lob to main creator Jack White, ‘eccentric’. All of these terms, among others, are accurate. They are also literary attempts to match words to a band that forever seems as if they are teetering on the edge, ready to plunge off of an imaginary cliff at any moment. It is not an easy task. But I’m going to make it easy on you. For better or for worse, Dodge and Burn can best be described as a big, thick slice of 70’s classic rock.
Right from the top, with the quasi-metallic riff fests “I Feel Love” and “Buzzkill (er)”, it is obvious that The Dead Weather are intent on taking us on another freaked-out joyride, speeding around cliffs, teasing death, and giving congratulatory high-fives at the end of it all. Just as on their previous releases, spitfire vocalist Alison Mosshart is the star, as she accomplishes the near impossible of upstaging our Mr. White. Although it is quite clear that she can be sweet when she wants to be (listen to her coo on the chorus of “Mile Markers”), more often than not she plays the part of ‘one of the boys’, ready to kick some butt at a moment’s notice. Make no mistake, this girl is bad.
Although Mosshart carries the proceedings, and White’s presence permeates, The Dead Weather is indeed the sum of their parts. Dean Fertita is a very integral piece to the whole picture, and Jack ‘Steady As He Goes’ Lawrence, the consummate sideman, is the glue, which is a very important role in a band like this. One of the things that made first album Horehound such a stunner (and was lost somewhat on follow-up Sea of Cowards) was the tempo shifts, and this aspect finds its way into these songs to fantastic effect. From Mosshart’s creepy “I’m a bad man” segment on “Let Me Through”, to the call-and-response sections of “Be Still”, and especially the ‘let’s take it down a notch’ stretch of “I Feel Love”. It doesn’t get much better than this.
There are a few real standouts on this album, beginning with the stunning “Open Up,’ with it’s humming Hammond organ and classic rock chords, as Mosshart rues an inability to outrun an undesired destiny. The smoking duet of “Rough Detective” leaves one dizzy, particularly when you get to the WTF middle section, and “Cop and Go,” which is about…well, you know…is an absolute stunner. Danger literally lurks in the music, with a constant, unchanging single piano note beating from the beginning of the song to the end…and beyond. It provides an almost unnerving tension. Then there is the oddball Jack White vehicle “Three Dollar Hat,” a modern day “Hey Joe” where our protagonist ‘Jackie Lee’ aims to kill a man for stealing his cheap hat. This song, which might be a love-it-hate-it proposition for many, is spastic and all over the place, from the crazy electronic noodlings, to the stunning mid-tempo shift where Mosshart takes over, to the in-joke fadeout where White substitutes Jackie in his quote of the American popular song “Frankie and Johnny,” which was recorded by, among others, Leadbelly, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Charley Patton…Jack White idols all.
For many groups, especially those of the ‘supergroup’ variety, there is often a law of diminishing returns. Although this album ends on a bum note with an ill-advised string-and-piano ballad (which seems to be of a piece with “The Last Goodbye” from the Kills’ Blood Pressures album), this has obviously not yet happened with The Dead Weather. What may have once been considered a one-off for the band members has now become quite possibly the most interesting thing going for each and every one of them. This is especially true of the remarkable Alison Mosshart, who has made only one album with The Kills since the first Dead Weather release in 2010. She obviously thrives in this environment, and we can only hope that this band keeps at it well into the future, dancing on the edge of that precipice, but never falling into the abyss.
David A. Bene is a freelance journalist who, during the day, works at a ‘real’ job bringing home the bacon. But at night, when everything comes alive, he can’t help but regularly indulge in two of his greatest passions…writing and music. Put the dude at a corner table with a laptop and some tunes and what do you get? Why, the guy who writes album reviews for Live from the Internet, of course! David, who has authored two books, resides in Independence, KY with his wife and four (yes, four) kids. Read more work from David here.