Rediscovering: The Dead Weather’s Horehound

Well, the Rediscoverings petered off for a while there, and I didn’t exactly intend for that. I burned out on doing two a week, I think, and given that this was the next one in the pile, I wasn’t particularly inspired to keep going. In a way, this album is the ultimate Rediscovering; an album I’ve had in CD collection after iTunes library, knowing two of the songs and nothing else, and even through trying it throughout the years, can’t remember a single thing about it.

The Dead Weather's Horehound

Given that this is the final one for the year, I guess I should end off strong, if not entirely positive. But I have a bad habit of giving it away…let’s talk Horehound by The Dead Weather.

My previous experience, if any

Despite my previous statement, I actually don’t remember where or when I got this CD. Yes, a first for Rediscovering, Cammy’s memory fails him! What I do remember is this video of Rock Band drum legend IBitePrettyHard FCing the final chorus of “Hang You From the Heavens”, which is the first single off Horehound. It’s a pretty insane fill, and the song (all 20 seconds of it…) caught my ear. That was 2009; perhaps I bought this album thanks to Lee.

The history lesson

You might know the man behind that fill as one Jack White, one half the White Stripes, one part Raconteur, and now having recorded as a solo artist almost as long as the White Stripes were together. The man has more than a few bands. The Dead Weather is another, forming after The Kills’ Alison Mosshart filled in as the Raconteurs’ vocalist when Jack lost his voice on a tour. Seeing his usual guitar position as redundant, Jack instead hopped behind the kit. One trip to the swamp behind Third Man Records later, and Horehound came out to positive enough reviews.


I’d hate to be in a band with Jack White. He’s always the most noteworthy thing about the band, and I really, honestly, don’t chalk it up to his talent. For all the hullabaloo about Mosshart stepping up as lead vocalist, getting one of the Queens of the Stone Age to play guitar, and Jack’s ostensible supporting role as the band’s drummer, The Dead Weather, like the Raconteurs (who I think are probably the most underrated of the lot), will always just be “another Jack White band”.

So what makes this Jack White band noteworthy? Alison cuts through the mix, naturally, because she’s a girl, and she’s not bad, if a little forgettable in her own right. At multiple points she tries to sound intimidating (particularly on the borderline-hilarious “Come over here, pony!” on “New Pony”), and she doesn’t quite have a voice nasty enough to make it work. Jack White of course has to have a bunch of vocal contributions throughout the album, despite being the drummer, and his voice has always had a very untrained, “mouth noises” quality to it, so he’s pretty recognizable.

Dean Fertita and fellow Raconteur Jack Lawrence, on the other hand, have no presence whatsoever. They contribute keys and bass, ostensibly, but the guitars on this thing are so flavorless and the sweaty, swampy organs feel so weirdly token, they don’t have much of an impact on the proceedings. The organs especially aren’t used in anything other than a “blues songs have organs sometimes” way, and the playing isn’t particularly impressive. Still, they’re uncommon enough, so they stick out too.

So we’re basically left with a girl, Jack White, and a pump organ. That’s what The Dead Weather is working with as far as style goes. The final piece of The Dead Weather Machine comes in the songwriting; most of these songs are structured more like polished, practiced jams on the song’s title than actual songs. “I Cut Like a Buffalo” is the perfect example of this; the moment you hear the song’s opening lines (“You know I look like a woman, but I/Cut like a buffalo”, of course sung by Jack and not Alison), you’ve heard 90% of the song’s content.

The ultimate problem with Horehound is that it has its moments, which is probably the worst thing you can say about an album. There’s occasionally a neat sound or a riff that pops up in there (“Bone House” has that neat squelchy intro, as does the instrumental “3 Birds”, which doubles as Lawrence’s one time to shine on bass), but the whole thing never feels like it’s going anywhere, nor does The Dead Weather ever feel like they’re trying to get across anything in the way of an interesting musical or lyrical idea. It’s all just forgettable jamming.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the opener, “60 Feet Tall”, which exhibits what I’d like to call the “Wilco intro”. If you’ve ever heard Wilco’s seminal Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, you’ll know the record opener, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart”, starts off with about a minute of ambient gubbins that amount to fucking nothing in the context of the song. I think musicians do this to set some kind of tone or build up to the music in an “epic” way. I tend to just skip a minute in and get right to the aquarium drinking.

The problem for Horehound is that “60 Feet Tall” is nothing but Wilco intro. The song is so disjointed and nebulous, so much more negative space than instrumental, so little in the way of musical ideas (think there was like a little repeating guitar thing in there?) that the moment the solo finally kicks in, it feels less like an epic buildup and more a jarring transition into “rocking the fuck out”. It’s a horrid opener, hardly musically offensive, but also not especially brilliant for setting the proper tone of the album.

But then–what is the proper tone of the album? “Treat Me Like Your Mother” feels like a schizophrenic trip through four not exactly well-integrated parts that, on their own, are even a little catchy–but together, don’t really make a full song. “So Far From Your Weapon” is the album’s lone successful attempt at menacing, a slave song that explodes into crashing drums on the chorus. The aforementioned “New Pony” and “No Hassle Night” try to wrangle up a trouser snake from Satan’s jorts, and “Will There Be Enough Water?” is suddenly a “soulful” closing on an album that didn’t even really hint at having a soul.

“Hang You From the Heavens” really is the album’s lone shining example of a really, really good rock song. Frankly, if the rest of the album was more like it, it’d be worth the listen; Jack stays behind the kit and manages to make it his own, the lyrics actually sound realized (even if they’re nothing too impressive), and there’s a fairly decent structure to the song. It stops in places too, but it’s more for dramatic effect, little bits of air before a much bigger fireworks show.

Perhaps The Dead Weather grew into it on Sea of Cowards, but I’m not especially interested in finding out.

Are you keeping it?


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