The Dead Weather has always felt like a way for Jack White to blow off steam and take a respite from being Jack White. Although he’s an integral part of the songwriting process and adds the occasional yelping vocal, he mainly sticks to drumming and cedes the spotlight to his bandmates: Kills vocalist Alison Mosshart, Queens Of The Stone Age keyboardist Dean Fertita, and Raconteurs/Greenhornes bassist Jack Lawrence. As a result, while The Dead Weather’s gothic grime-noise and electro-smudged blues certainly feel of a piece with the rest of White’s catalog, their songs are decidedly looser and less beholden to expectations.
The specter of limitless possibility makes Dodge And Burn, The Dead Weather’s well-crafted third album (and first since 2010’s Sea Of Cowards) particularly enjoyable. Although the record touches on howling classic rock (“I Feel Love (Every Million Miles)”) and stabbing post-punk (“Let Me Through”), the band members take subtle liberties with their sound. Fertita adds perforated Moog on “Cop And Go” and tosses similar flourishes into the ’70s post-punk stutter “Buzzkill(er),” while Lawrence’s scuzzy synth-bass effects are particularly effective on the hip-hop-inflected “Mile Markers,” on which Mosshart does her best slam-poet impression.
Mosshart especially relishes the chance to stretch her talents. On “Be Still,” she channels Siouxsie Sioux as Fertita unfurls some wicked Hammond organ behind her, while she’s disappointed and scorned on the smoldering blues barnburner “Lose The Right” and desperate-sounding on “Open Up.” The playful standout “Three Dollar Hat,” a tête-à-tête between buffoonish Old West sharp-shooters that doubles as a vocal duel between White and Mosshart, is even better: The former channels the Beastie Boys on the song’s jazzy hip-hop parts, with the latter flails like a snarling noise-punk killer.
“Three Dollar Hat” exemplifies Dodge And Burn’s tongue-twisting wordplay, which resembles a surrealistic Dr. Seuss, what with its absurd imagery (“I’ve seen roses grow noses / And noses go and get broken”) and cartoonish-bordering-on-the-outlandish characters and situations. But these seemingly nonlinear lyrics cloak some pointed kernels of honesty: a rumination on the gloominess of long-distance (and ill-fated) romance; existential dread that devolves into personal disillusionment; and dealing with the burden of possessing too much knowledge. And the final song, “Impossible Winner,” is The Dead Weather’s finest work to date. A string quartet and piano cushion Mosshart as she sings in a strong, clear voice about resilience and redemption. It’s almost Broadway-esque in its execution, which isn’t necessarily expected from The Dead Weather—but is exactly the kind of curveball that makes Dodge And Burn so appealing.