Jack White’s music is more notable for its swagger than its substance (remember when the drummer in that two-man band of his couldn’t even drum?), but at least it’s always interesting. Sea of Cowards, the sophomore album from his supergroup the Dead Weather, once again features vocal banshee Allison Mosshart from the Kills, former Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Dean Fertita, and White’s go-to bassist “Little Jack” Lawrence of the Greenhornes, on a supremely creepy sophomore effort. It marks White’s return to the dark territory he left behind after the White Stripes’ Elephant, and began to reconnect with on Dead Weather’s first album, Horehound, released just last summer. Mosshart is more contemptuously sexy than usual as she spits out commands to White’s vampy backing vocals. But it’s Fertita who really steals this album with his trippy keyboard work. Previously Fertita joined the White ranks to play keys on both Raconteurs albums, and his blistering guitar work on Horehound was singled out for special praise. This time, Fertita, who shares writing credits on eight of the album’s 11 tracks, flexes his keyboard prowess on moog, keyboard, and organ (possibly a fun machine?), spinning heavy-bottomed blues rock into a hard-funk galaxy on “Hustle and Cuss” and into intelligent dance-music territory on “The Difference Between Us.” His repetitive single acoustic piano note puts the final, skeevy note on the album’s first single, “Die by the Drop,” a jam that’s equal parts Nine Inch Nails and Led Zeppelin. While Fertita does the heavy instrumental work, White works black magic on the production, deftly mixing vocal echoes, hissing tapes, and crunchy bass into a seamless final product. — Callie Enlow
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