Even before The White Stripes broke wide, the alt-rock scene harbored a goodly number of loud, minimalist electric-blues acts steeped in echo, bash, and gothic misery. Jack White injected a necessary dose of wit and personality into the genre, laced with an understanding that while a bluesy sound is easy to replicate, a credible swagger takes a leap of imagination. White’s new supergroup, The Dead Weather—featuring The Kills’ Alison Mosshart on vocals, The Greenhornes’/Raconteurs’ Jack Lawrence on bass, Queens Of The Stone Age’s Dean Fertita on guitar, and White on drums—brings that swagger more than once on its debut album, Horehound, and when the band hits it, it hits hard. The singles “Hang You From The Heavens” and “Treat Me Like Your Mother”—with their disjointed grind and don’t-cross-me attitude—are wild and fun in the best White Stripes tradition, while the fiery stompers “Rocking Horse” and “New Pony” (the latter a Bob Dylan cover) have enough weird energy to overcome conventional structures.
But about half of Horehound is very much in the same spook-boogie mode that’s been done to death by thousands of Allmans/Winters/Hendrix/Zeppelin-worshipping bar bands. The Dead Weather is a true collaboration, with each band member providing songs (along with input into one another’s songs), and this bunch is talented enough to make even the tracks that are all mood sound just about right. Still, Horehound commands more attention when The Dead Weather takes chances, as on the spaghetti-Western instrumental “3 Birds” or the reggae-tinged shriek-fest “I Cut Like A Buffalo.” It’s hard to predict how much wear these songs have in them, but at least they aren’t forgettable.