There’s been no drastic change in sound or methodology in The Dead Weather’s follow-up to last year’s surprise debut album Horehound. The from-the-hip alt-rock supergroup still consists of members of Queens Of The Stone Age, The Greenhornes, and The Kills, all called to order by The White Stripes’ Jack White, and the band still gravitates toward the dark, heavy, loud, and bluesy, in songs that sound like they were written, rehearsed, and recorded in under an hour. Sea Of Cowards storms through 11 songs in 35 minutes, and while few of those songs are memorable in and of themselves, the album as a whole has a spontaneity and ferocity that makes it a fleetingly thrilling half-hour of throwback rock.
The Dead Weather is most convincing at its loosest: when White is making like a hip-hop bad-ass on “Blue Blood Blues” (boasting that “all the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service”) or singer-guitarist Alison Mosshart is shrieking like Janis Joplin over a skittery organ on the deeply funky and weird “Gasoline.” White, Mosshart, guitarist Dean Fertita, and bassist Jack Lawrence know their business well, and can generate credible blues-rock on command—and sometimes more-than-credible, as on “Hustle And Cuss,” which sounds like a lost Ten Years After festival performance. The downside to the do-it-fast/do-it-now approach is that too often, Sea Of Cowards lacks strong hooks, or devolves into grooveless noise. The upside is that if the members of The Dead Weather decide to end an album with the freaky tongue-in-cheek beat poetry of “Old Mary,” then damn it, they just do.