Sea of Cowards
Third Man Records 2010
Jack White III

Side 1:
1. Blue Blood Blues
2. Hustle and Cuss
3. The Difference Between Us
4. I’m Mad
5. Die by the Drop

Side 2:
1. I Can’t Hear You
2. Gasoline
3. No Horse
4. Looking at the Invisible Man
5. Jawbreaker
6. Old Mary




The Dead Weather arrive in time to save the summer


The summer’s been rough for music.

Between work and whatever else has been getting between myself and my turntable, the active discovery of music took a shot to the stomach sometime just after May. No excuses, shame on me.

Concerts? There were two, and they were both courtesy of the Flaming Lips, who brought their Embryonic-heavy freakout to Providence, R.I., and, two weeks later, the middle of the woods in Holyoke, Mass. The Holyoke show was hot and sticky, while the Providence show was the hottest day on record in the city in 100 years. But I’ve been listening to their new record for months now. Through mostly my own doing, nothing new had jumped up and grabbed me.

Until the Dead Weather took over my life.

Their first album, 2009’s Horehound, was solid. Their second, Sea of Cowards, came out on May 11, to little notice of me, other than the thought of “wow, even for Jack White, that was fast.” For no good reason, I didn’t pick it up right away. A co-worker planted the first seed, though.

“Hey, have you heard the new Dead Weather album yet?”
“Not yet.”
“You need to, it’s good.”
“Yeah? I liked the last one.”
“I did, too. But this is really, really good. Actually, great.”
“Honestly, I haven’t stopped listening to it. I think I’ve played it 45 times in the last week. It’s amazing. Seriously. You need to hear this.”
“... Huh.”

That exchange stuck with me, and it was confirmed by a couple of other people I knew who had heard the album. This was apparently very, very good. It still took me about a month to give it a listen.

I was walking through Newbury Comics about two weeks ago, without this record on my mind, when I spotted it flipping through the new vinyl releases. I think the price was $15.99 or something to that effect. It was a Saturday afternoon, I was looking for something, and what the hell, this was probably good. I hadn’t heard any of the singles yet, but anything with Jack White is typically worth my money. Grabbed it, threw it in my bag, drove home, and threw it on. And within 30 seconds of the opener, “Blue Blood Blues,” I was floored.

The entire record channels a direction White hinted at on the last White Stripes record, Icky Thump — the raw, charged blues of Led Zeppelin funneled through electro-kit fuzz. But with Alison Mosshart fronting this, and a solid core of guitarist/keyboardist Dean Fertita and bassist Jack Lawrence, it has an edge that White never had on his own. The White Stripes are stripped-down brillance, and the Raconteurs offer another voice and more polished channel for him, but the Dead Weather are a very different beast. Hell, they were always good, but they weren’t this jaw-dropping even a year ago.

Sea of Cowards plays like a DJ’s dream, flowing from one track to the next with ease. The first time I heard it, I didn’t realize right away that the swaggering stomp of “Hustle and Cuss” was a new song, rather a cool diversion from the main theme of “Blue Blood Blues.” One listen to “Looking at the Invisible Man” and I was quoting lyrics and singing it in the shower. And “Die by the Drop” is likely the best single White has put his name on since the Stripes’ “The Denial Twist.” There isn't a weak track in the set, and, like my co-worker, I've lost track of how many times I've played it.

Most importantly, Sea of Cowards has been successful in getting me off my ass and tracking down some more new music. I’ve since tracked down the lastest from Band of Horses and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, I’m looking at concert listings, and, most importantly, I’m writing about music in a serious, organized fashion.

Laziness is no excuse, but it is real sometimes. If nothing else, Sea of Cowards will always have the distinction of knocking the 2010 Summertime Blues out of my system.

Aug. 14, 2010

E-mail Nick Tavares at

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