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Album review: The Dead Weather's 'Sea of Cowards'

May 10, 2010 |  7:14 pm

DEAD_WEATHER_240 In the Dead Weather's world, love has nothing to do with flowers and chocolates; it's all about grenades and flak jackets.

"When you're so close to me," the magnetic Alison Mosshart sings in "Gasoline" from the band's sophomore album, "I can smell the gasoline.... I don't want a sweetheart, sweetheart/I want a machine."

The Dead Weather's unrelenting commitment to exploring the outer limits of human passion is consistently breathtaking here. A lot of musicians approach that theme from a safe distance, but Mosshart, drummer Jack White, guitarist-keyboardist Dean Fertita and bassist Jack Lawrence utterly subsume the listener in a musical onslaught that exhibits not so much as a shred of moderation.

What elevates Dead Weather above so many less mindful practitioners of heavy music is that it comes up with songs that are the equivalent of smart bombs. They zero in on a target rather than indiscriminately obliterating everything for miles around.

"Blue Blood Blues" understands the negation of self that can happen in an all-consuming affair: "Yeah, I love you so much/I don't need to exist." That idea returns in "Looking at the Invisible Man": "Wave your hands in the dark, woman/You're looking at me." A duet between Mosshart and White, "Die by the Drop," turns the marriage vow inside out: "I'm gonna take you for worse or for better/To my little grave." And in "I'm Mad," Mosshart and the band are at once convincingly enraged and flirting with insanity.

The group's debut oozed with chemistry, and that musical empathy has just grown stronger and tighter here. And both in songwriting and musical execution — the operative word throughout here — the Dead Weather has crafted the equivalent of a taut, expertly directed movie thriller. "I'm gonna make you understand," Mosshart snarls in "I Can't Heart You," "There's nobody you can trust but me."

That's not a promise…

—Randy Lewis

The Dead Weather
"Sea of Cowards"
Third Man / Warner Bros.
Three and a half stars (Out of four)

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