While some bands take years fiddling away in the studio, The Dead Weather are back less than a year after their debut release, Horehound, with 36 minutes of tunes that finds them expanding their sound.
"Blue Blood Blues" gets things underway, and in the opening seconds Jack White on drums alongside Jack Lawrence's wicked fuzzed-out bass make a fantastic rhythm section. Dean Fertita's guitar joins in, and when White starts singing about an all-encompassing love that removes his "need to exist," they prove to be a formidable power trio, reminiscent of Them Crooked Vultures. The listener may anticipate the rest of the song will play out, but the arrangements are soon augmented by periodic effects to White's vocals, odd keyboard flourishes, and Alison Mosshart completing the foursome on background vocals
"Hustle And Cuss" is a boisterous throwback, blues by way of classic-rock bands like Zeppelin or Deep Purple. Mosshart reclaims the lead vocal with a slightly distorted effect, and then White's frequent vocals turn it into a duet. Fertita delivers a powerful organ lead on the bridge.
I really enjoy the lyrics of "The Difference Between Us" referring to people evolving in a relationship ("I'm not the way that you found me") not in a positive way ("…I ain't doing so well"). The keyboards take the lead in a collection of harsh sounds that really get raging as the band comes together on the bridge, aptly reflecting the chaotic situation. It bleeds right into the chaos of "I'm Mad," which plays like an explanation of the narrator from the previous track as Mosshart babbles through the lyrics. Fertita's guitar slices cleanly and clearly through the dissonance during the middle of the song.
Taking control, or trying to, is a theme that runs throughout album. "Die By The Drop" becomes a duet as White joins Mosshart, both proclaiming to take the other "for worse or better/ to my little grave." On "I Can’t Hear You" Mosshart informs she's "gonna keep you for" herself and the hypnotic rhythm of White and Lawrence increases the chances of falling under her spell.
"Gasoline" is Mosshart's singing at her most intense as an organ leads the band. Not sure who plays it, but there's a brilliant, blistering twin-guitar attack on the bridge. The album begins to weaken slightly afterwards. While enjoyable to hear, the sounds and sentiments on "No Horse" and "Looking At The Invisible Man," with White on lead vocal, cover ground already traversed earlier on the album. "Jawbreaker" is the last standout track on the album with Mosshart's vocal frequently overpowered by the relentless swirling, whirling organ.
The album closes with "Old Mary," sure to divide listeners, as this variation of "Hail Mary" makes for an odd coda. It separates itself from everything else as it incorporates noise and found sounds, like a baby crying. It couldn't have been placed anywhere else than the final track, but may have worked better as a hidden track after a few minutes of silence.
As a whole, the music throughout Sea of Cowards reveals a band gelling well as a unit and pushing their boundaries as players. Can't wait to see what's next from this band, presuming White hasn't already formed a new unit to perform with or gone back to a previous one.