Robert Plant once described Led Zeppelin’s 1971 classic “Black Dog” as a “blatant, let’s-do-it-in-the-bath type thing.” This would also be an accurate appraisal of the third album by Jack White’s side project the Dead Weather — assuming that the only time you ever use the bath is for doing it in the bath. The band features White on drums, fire-breathing singer Alison Mosshart of the Kills on vocals, Dean Fertita of Queens of the Stone Age on guitars and keyboards, and longtime White associate Jack Lawrence on bass. Together, they uncork the dirtiest, ickiest thump our man Jack has been part of in some time. It’s a fine reminder that he always works best when there’s a tough woman around to let him know what’s good.
The Dead Weather first came together for a pair of seething, low-stakes albums — 2009’s Horehound, followed swiftly by 2010’s even louder Sea of Cowards. In the five subsequent years, White has emerged as a restless solo artist, chasing his Medusa muse down whatever forked path it leads him. But Dodge and Burn, which they recorded at White’s Third Man studios in Nashville, is all business: 21st-century grindhouse blues metal with blood on its fangs and railroad hooch on the breakfast menu.
White shares some vocals this time, but he’s mainly content to play sideman. On the strikingly Zep-tacular “I Feel Love (Every Million Miles),” he gets his John Bonham on over Fertita’s wild guitar squall, for a Viking raid that comes straight from the land of the ice and snow. On “Mile Markers,” White is practically dancing behind the kit — it’s Southern sugar-shack swagger with a shot of Deep Purple. But the real star of this album is always Mosshart. She was great on the first two Dead Weather LPs, sounding like a demon-punk mistress of the night. Here she ups her range and power, like Patti Smith out on a backwoods prowl. Check out “Buzzkill(er),” where Fertita’s guitar sounds like a banshee that accidentally sat on a hot plate and Mosshart calls out the good Lord himself for laying a guilt trip on her good times — growling, “No mercy will be given me/Down in Tennessee.” There’s even less mercy to be found on “Cop and Go,” a predatory slither straight out of Jimmy Page’s dungeon, where Mosshart informs a lucky victim that it “ain’t no time to take it slow.” For the dude in the song, it’s either gonna be the best night of his life or the last one — most likely both.
One of the album’s strongest suits is the way it focuses White’s Delta-goth absurdist side through a shit-hot band with an even hotter singer — but without ever entirely squashing that sense of screwball whimsy. “Open Up” is so vicious in its gutbucket brutality that you barely notice Mosshart hollering playful nonsense like, “Bubble gum in your hair isn’t fair/But it smells good.” Ain’t it the truth. The only time this comedic impulse goes a little off the rails is on the album’s closing track, a kitschy Broadway ballad called “Impossible Winner” that would still be a dumb slog even if it were five times funnier. It’s the only wet-towel moment on a blazing set by a band that really ought to record more often.