If anyone thought the Dead Weather was going to be the project where Jack White let someone else take the lead, those notions end a minute and 38 seconds into Sea of Cowardsopener “Blue Blood Blues”, when White tears into one of his most nonsensically badass couplets ever: “Check your lips at the door, woman!/ And shake your hips like battleships!/ Yeah, all the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service!” It’s fantastical tough-guy gibberish worthy of Bo Diddley, and it’s the sort of line that only an extremely confident singer would ever attempt, let alone pull off. It reveals the Dead Weather to be just another White vehicle– the one that plays host to his most deranged impulses.
For two people capable of writing gloriously catchy rock choruses in their sleep, White and Mosshart sure stay away from them here. There are barely any choruses on Sea of Cowards, but that’s not to say there are no hooks: the catchiness is all in the thud and flail of the band. This is some serious locked-in rock-dude shit: discordant guitar leads, fuzzed-out organ blurts, clattering falling-down-stairs drum fills. It’s unhinged classic-rock explosiveness that sounds like it could be the result of a few vicious jam sessions– the rumblings of scuzz-rock lifers given a chance to air out all their purest expressions of fuck-you-up ire. And when a chorus does emerge from the swampy ether, as on the ferocious first single “Die By the Drop”, it cuts deep.
Little details jump out. The backfiring keyboard on “The Difference Between Us” sounds like nothing so much as the Faint, circa Blank-Wave Arcade— electro-rocking harder than most actual rock. The two guitar leads on “I Can’t Hear You” sound like they’re in the middle of a fiery lovers’ argument, one staying maddeningly calm and steady while the other bleats and rages. White and Mosshart are old-style rock stars, the types who don’t feel like they have to explain everything to you, or share it with you. And even if Sea of Cowards sounds more bashed-out than labored-over, it works. It’s a heavy, snarly, physical rock album, and it feels like the work of people so secure in their ass-kicking abilities that they don’t have to sweat the details.