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Sea Of Cowards

Umpteenth Jack White side-project finally comes good

Rating: 8 / 10

Ed Power, 20 May 2010

Is Jack White the new Prince? He’s certainly getting to be as prolific. Wasn’t it, like, ten minutes ago that The White Stripes were putting out the live album and tour DVD, Under The Great White Northern Lights? That came immediately on the heels of the first missive from White’s Dead Weather project, his swampy, feral hook-up with The Kills’ Alison Mosshart. Right now, he’s probably on the phone to Brendan Benson, trying to sort studio time for the next Raconteurs LP.

As was the case with Prince the deluge is at a price. Where once White’s music was meticulous, minimalist even, lately he’s started to ship the stuff by the tonne. Listening to those recent records, it’s difficult not to conclude they were a great deal more enjoyable to make than they are to actually sit through. With indulgence replacing discipline, unless you’re a die-hard, it’s been difficult to keep up, or even care that much.

Perhaps Sea Of Cowards is where he starts to turn things around. Working with Mosshart, Dean Fertita of Queens Of The Stone Age and Raconteurs bassist Jack Lawrence, White – orchestrating the chaos from behind the drum-kit –  has dialled down the excesses of DW debut Horehound, a record that blurted an oil tanker worth of sludgy riffs on the listener’s lap and didn’t stick around to clean up.

Instead, Sea Of Cowards tips its hat to cask-aged songwriting virtues, with melodies that linger and choruses you can actually hum. The thrill factor is particularly high whenever White and Mosshart gather around a microphone and go at it like a pair of drunks in a knife-fight, as they do on the Sabbath-esque opener ‘Blue Blood Blues’. Wrestling for alpha dog status, there are moments when the record doesn’t feel large enough to contain their dueling egos.

Indeed, where Horehound too often lost its way amid monsoon quantities of blues guitars, Sea Of Cowards maintains a laser-eyed focus on the Big Pop Moment. Single ‘Die By The Drop’ may be hobbled by a quirky time signature, yet beneath its jewel-box intricacies, there’s a refreshing directness, especially in Mosshart‘s raw-meat vocals. Almost as good is Hammond-fueled stomper ‘Gasoline’, a Stones pastiche with fire in its fingertips.

It’s probably too soon to tell whether Jack White has turned a corner. What can be stated with certainty is that Sea Of Cowards is the most fully realised LP he’s put out since the White Stripe’s Get Behind Me Satan. Whether that’s the start of a true rejuvenation is something we’ll have to wait and see. Don’t worry. At the rate White’s tossing off records at the moment, the next will probably be along before the month is out.

Rating: 8 / 10
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