the Dead Weather and the Black Keys

Sea of Cowards, and Brothers (Third Man/Warner Bros.)

Phases & Stages

The Dead Weather

Sea of Cowards (Third Man/Warner Bros.)

The Black Keys

Brothers (Nonesuch)
Phases & Stages

Jack White betrayed his Achilles' heel in the White Stripes' tour documentary Under Great White Northern Lights: an innate need for harsh restrictions in creation. For the Dead Weather, that constraint is time – or a lack thereof. The quartet's timid 2009 debut, Horehound, was recorded in three weeks, and Sea of Cowards follows less than a year later. The cryptic Catholicism of "Old Mary" and psychotic fire-starter "Gasoline" prove just how far the band has evolved its Gothic Southern stomp. Yet while White stalks bewitching frontwoman Alison Mosshart to sublime effect in "The Difference Between Us" and "Die by the Drop," the album still sounds rushed, as if the Dead Weather can't wait to storm the stage. Post-Zeppelin peers the Black Keys, for their part, broke every mold with 2008's meticulous, Danger Mouse-produced Attack & Release; last year's hip-hop side project Blakroc; and the vintage psych of guitarist Dan Auerbach's solo bow Keep It Hid. The Akron, Ohio-based duo's sixth LP marks where those three roads meet. "Tighten Up" could pass for Gnarls Barkley, not unlike the moody, harpsichord-tinged "Too Afraid to Love You," and Blakroc diva Nicole Wray offsets the urban grime of "Everlasting Light" and "Next Girl." Humid instrumental "Black Mud" breathes like a vaporizer. Recorded primarily at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Brothers excels with its ballads, notably the 1960s pop swoon of "The Only One" and "Unknown Brother," while the Philly soul of Jerry Butler's "Never Gonna Give You Up" beckons for white suits and synchronized moves. New century R&B, Black and White.

(The Dead Weather) **.5

(The Black Keys) ***

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