Jack White is on a mission of late. Between three bands touring extensively in recent years, a new White Stripes’ DVD, a marriage to his model wife, Karen Elson, and 2 albums in 10 months with his latest project, there’s no shortage of insatiable, swampy blues guitar riffs in his bag of tricks (or drum licks in this particular case). Following up 2009’s Horehound is their latest Sea of Cowards. Right away the differences between the two albums are apparent, on the vocal front, there’s more Jack White’s smarmy howl, which was primarily the Kill’s lead singer Allison Mosshart’s forte; and secondly, there’s more secure percussive stylings from White, which steadies the record as a whole from start to finish. If there was a question about their last release, it was not focused on intent or motivation, but in the execution.
At first spin of the vinyl, the bass lines and kick drum rumbled my speakers. From the first few lines of ‘Blue Blood Bones’ it’s obvious that White has been practicing. He is no doubt one of the hardest working musicians in the game nowadays, but he manages not to over-extend himself. That may be in part to surrounding himself with like-minded uber-talented musicians which push towards high quality in every collaboration. With the afore mentioned Mosshart approaching rock goddess status, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita and Raconteurs‘ bassist Jack Lawrence are by no means pushed into the shadows. Even though it may seem that way with White’s growing influence and Mosshart larger than life personality. In only 10 months the group seems to have hit their stride and are thriving in the new found confidence which translates to one of the best live shows in the world, though the creativity for song-writing is still lacking. As with the last, the intent is solid and the execution is much stronger, but the tunes just don’t carry as well on the turntable as well as they do on stage. For some, that’s not a bad thing; and I just happen to be one of those people. If you caught the group’s last stop through Austin at Stubb’s, you know exactly what I mean. These songs just can’t be contained in a formal studio release, though try as they might.
Sea of Cowards is much angrier than their former, allowing the band to show their angst and fierce nature, letting loose on tracks like ‘Hustle and Cuss’ and ‘I’m Mad’. ‘The Difference Between Us’ is the first track which solely highlights Alison Mosshart’s full potency as she dominates the track. The first single, ‘Die By The Drop’ is no doubt one of the highlights of the album with Mosshart and White each taking turns howling alongside strong performances from Fertita and Lawrence. During ‘Looking At the Invisible Man’, White it seems to be making a symbolic gesture of his desire to step out of the spotlight and to let his accompaniment shine, and the realization that it is no use. He exclaims that he is the invisible man, though his presence is always felt. On the final track ‘Old Mary’, White recites last rites with a simple piano accompaniment before the band pounds out the finale in style. Something tells me this however is not the last breath of this rendition of White (and Company). In fact with White’s steadier percussive talent, I feel the best may be yet to come. This is by no means the best album of the year, but it is a worthy successor to Horehound.