Review Summary: Even if you like blues-based 70s hard rock bands and all of the nostalgic reincarnations of them, I'm still hesitant as far as recommending this record goes.1 of 2 thought this review was well written
There's a fine line between nostalgia for the sake of nostalgia(which is vulgar) and nostalgia that is stripped out of context and used to create something artistically genuine. The latter has been perfected by a fair amount of modern bands. You could find this in an artist like The Tallest Man on Earth, who's most recent LP recalls the lush recording of 60s folk artists. He presents his unique and heartfelt tunes through the stripped down sound of Bob Dylan. The former, however, is often presented under deceiving intentions. Take Jack White. He has been glorified by music critics for defying the "technological expectations and standards" that many popular artists fall victim to. He's flaunted his image of bringing music "back to basics" and creating an anti-conceptual, anti-intellectualized, "pure" approach to rock music(which in his head does not lie in any music from the past 30 years or so).
And in Jack White's goal to defy as what he sees an overly progressive music scene, he has managed to put out music that is not only painfully nostalgic and traditional, but a sound that is restraint from any sort of musical achievement.
And don't be thrown off by the odd appearance of wanky guitar sounds and random electronic noises thrown in throughout Sea of Cowards
. And as a matter of fact, some of the riffs and sounds are pretty varied as far as Jack White projects go. But it doesn't help that they sound ridiculously uninspired. Jack White has always been big on big "blues rock" riffs. One could argue that he even added originality to his music with his mysterious character and his alternative twist of bluesy music in The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. But Dead Weather without a doubt is the most unoriginal sounding record Jack White has put out yet. The over-souled vocals and murky, simplistic guitar riffs create a bleak atmosphere that attempts to simulate old blues-rock groups and the stripped-down rock sound that they perfected; In other words this is recycled pseudo-hard rock trash that fails to even produce the sublime vibes associated with the blues sound. And whether this modern branch of blues is Jack White patented hardly matters, seeing as the material on Sea of Cowards fails to live up to his own innovated neo-garage sound.
The riffing on this album, which is one of the biggest aspects due to the stripped-down sound, covers a range of various influences whether it be Led Zeppelin-esque riffing to heavy power chords that are in the vein of 70s hard rock bands a la Foghat. If the goal was to completely rip-off both mid-70s soul and rock acts, than this album by no means fails but the guitar riffs fail to lead anywhere. The riffs tire throughout the hazy production of the tracks and the off-kilter guitar solos are awkwardly placed within the mix and fail to transcend the track. This is highlighted by the tired sounding "I Can't Hear You", with it's the tape echo effect on the recording and the over-used megaphone sound on Allison Mosshart's vocals. In fact, the vocals drag worse than the actual music does. Allison Mosshart and Jack White share vocal duties throughout the album. After the first few tracks it's hard to differentiate between each vocalist, due to their obnoxious similarities in sound. On each track the vocals are incredibly tinny and thin sounding. It's apparent that they associate fuzzy produced vocals as a major aspect of vintage blues, as opposed to, I don't know, personality
. At first listen it creates a classic "blues vocal" simulation, as Jack and Allison harmonize soulfully throughout Blues Blood Blues. But as the album progresses the dragged on blues moaning of Allison and Jack, not to mention the peaking frequencies and awful reverb, becomes monotonous and tiresome.
To be fair, the music isn't entirely samey throughout the album(definitely more variety than The XX). The music ranges from bluesy motifs to awkward noise riffs to funky organ/piano lead songs. But unlike The XX, The Dead Weather fail to spark any atmosphere, emotion, or even interesting musical moments throughout Sea Of Cowards. Their attempt at creating soulfully simplistic and basic rock music comes out as a stubborn insistence on keeping from any sort of musical innovation and drowning in nostalgia. And it's really sad when they can't even do nostalgia well.