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The Dead Weather Do the Supergroup Thing Right

Jul. 28, 2010
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Few pop-music terms inspire more eyes to roll than “supergroup.” Defined as a band whose lineup consists of members from other notable acts, the word itself seems to ooze contrivance and ego in a way that makes it challenging for the music to live up to the hype generated by disparate famous people sharing the same stage.

Too often the albums released by these groups don’t live up to the high expectations, and even when the formula does result in memorable music, as with Captain Beyond or Gorillaz, listeners often miss the authenticity (another annoying pop-music term) of a band bio along the lines of, say, meeting in high school and enduring the highs and lows along the road to stardom together.

And yet we tend to forget that, with all the touring and promotion going on, the life of a working musician offers plenty of opportunities for mutual interests to be discovered and for genuine friendships to blossom. The formation of The Dead Weather, featuring Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs), Alison Mosshart (The Kills), “Little” Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs, The Greenhornes) and Dean Fertita (Queens of the Stone Age), seems as organic as that of any other group. At the tail end of a tour, with The Kills playing opener for The Raconteurs, White lost his voice and asked Mosshart to sing on a few numbers. The resultant good vibes led to casual jam sessions with Fertita sitting in on drums, and thus The Dead Weather were born.

But still, the rock supergroup label rears its ugly head when it comes to convincing potential listeners that they’re a proper band (especially for a group derived in part from The Raconteurs and Queens of the Stone Age, who are both pretty “super” in their own right). In a recent phone interview, bassist Lawrence acknowledged the tag, but seemed unperturbed by it.

“There’s definitely preconceived notions,” Lawrence says. “People believe what they want, because they’ve heard us in our other bands before. In The Raconteurs we really tried to get away from that, but people will say what they want. We definitely don’t look at ourselves that way.”

The Dead Weather’s first album, last summer’s Horehound, seemed to come together as effortlessly as the band itself, reportedly being finished over the course of a few weeks. Their freshly released follow-up, Sea of Cowards,follows in its predecessor’s unforced footsteps. It’s an effective hybrid of sweaty, riff-heavy ’70s hard rock and more dance-savvy modern rock, seasoned with little proggy flourishes and an off-kilter funkiness that make repeat listens a worthy endeavor.

“It’s the same on this record as the last one,” Lawrence says. “We never set out to make it anything; we never discussed it, we never had a game plan. We just get in the studio and go with it.”

This is not to say that the album is tossed off, but merely that it’s free from the weight of the expectations of a sophomore slump and the desire to move X amount of units. In Lawrence’s words, “There’s always pressure. You always want to better yourself.”

As for the more modern tone, Lawrence offers a simple explanation: “There’s a lot of Moog on there.” Funny how something so old can still make just about anything sound futuristic.

Whether the supergroup itself is ahead of its time remains to be seen. But regardless of the members’ pedigrees, and in light of an era of popular music where high-profile collaborations are commonplace, we should all be able to recognize The Dead Weather for what they are: a solid rock band. They’re probably not going to blow your mind and they’re probably not going to usher in a new rock renaissance, but the records are solid and the shows are solid. And at a time when mainstream radio rock is defined by Puddle of Mudd, a solid rock band can seem heaven-sent.

The Dead Weather headline a 7:30 p.m. show at the Rave on Thursday, July 29, with openers Harlem.


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