Jack White’s side project/supergroup The Dead Weather has been on my radar for years, but didn’t make much of an impression before their September 25th release of Dodge and Burn. Although I’m a huge fan of Jack White, I wasn’t blown away by 2009’s Horehound or 2010’s Sea of Cowards. But with the much-anticipated release of Dodge and Burn, named after a Photoshop technique utilized in its eye-catching cover art, I decided to give The Dead Weather another shot – and I’m so glad that I did.
The Dead Weather is the collective brainchild of members of The Kills, City and Colour, and Queens of the Stone Age, with Jack White providing vocal support and frenzied percussion. Dodge and Burn focuses on the scuzzy, aggressive quality that’s been toned down in each member’s main project, leading to tracks full of howls, moans, and fierce, raw rock that demands to be heard. The overall feeling of the album – with the exception of the final track – is claustrophobic and almost violent: the guitars spar with the vocals, the vocalists spar with each other, and the disjointed melody drags the whole mess into hysteria, but somehow, the album is still a blast to listen to. Beginning with the stand-out track “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)”, Mosshart’s vocals are gloriously edgy and pair beautifully with the squeaky guitar riffs and fuzzy bass. Particularly notable on “Cop and Go”, her voice blends so well with the music that it becomes another instrument, a technique that White often uses and that fits perfectly with the off-kilter tone of the album. Overall, the album manages to combine clever lyrics with tremendous theatricality and frenetic backgrounds to pack a serious aural punch.
The climactic “Rough Detective” is definitely one of the highlights of the album. Even with only a facile knowledge of their previous two releases, it’s clear that a major characteristic of The Dead Weather’s sound is its reliance on duets between White and Mosshart, and this track takes that technique and absolutely crushes it. The vocals battle until the whole song crumbles into madness – and that’s when it gets good. White’s surprised query of “What’s happening??” followed by screaming guitar licks builds into a mess of layers that carries through the next five tracks. A departure from White’s originally minimalistic vibe, the message of Dodge and Burn seems to be the more sound, the better … until you reach the last track.
On its own, “Impossible Winner” is a good song. Tacked on to the end of the skuzz-rock trip that is Dodge and Burn, however, it’s merely confusing. Although the soaring piano ballad probably intends to be a ray of light after the darkness of the rest of the album, the instant tonal shift leaves the listener wondering if iTunes perhaps skipped to another album. Disguised as a hidden track, it would be much more successful, but as it is, it’s the most superfluous track on an otherwise tight album.
The dramatics of Dodge and Burn make it incredibly fun to listen to, but theatricality does not equal originality. The album as a whole fits into the niche created by the more rock-heavy tracks on White’s excellent Lazaretto, at times mirroring rhythms and guitar licks almost exactly. This isn’t the worst path the band could have taken, however. Whereas White’s solo releases tend to wander all over the map musically, from meandering country-tinged blues to heavy electric guitar, Dodge and Burn found a (rad) sound and ran with it. A bit more musical innovation and a bit less dependence on White’s musical canon would only have served to elevate the album to even more ambitious heights.