These days it has grown exceedingly rare to see bands releasing albums within a year of each other (one of the scant exceptions being Portugal. The Man), so to see one of last year's most popular supergroups, The Dead Weather, furnishing a sophomore effort ten months after their fairly impressive debut is indeed a pleasant surprise. The potential downside to this, of course, is that with such a small amount of time to work with, there's not much time for a great deal of progression with the music. And it's true that Sea of Cowards, the group's latest, isn't quite as forward-thinking as it might be, but it still finds the quartet toying with their sounds and trying new things.
The Dead Weather do try a few new things this time around, and they all work very well; the only problem is that they're hardly tried often enough. Take The Difference Between Us, which remains faithful to the band's bluesy rock template but tops it off with a great, almost sinister synth line, or Gasoline's organ driven hook, giving it an even more authentic 70s rock feel. Then there's Dean Fertita's heavily processed guitar on tracks like Looking at the Invisible Man and Jawbreaker. These are all great moments on the album, but they are the extent of the band's experimentation, and while the songwriting has definitely improved, it hasn't really changed, and it gives these songs less chance to really stand out.
Another thing worthy of note is Alison Mosshart's vocals - she's grown even more confident with her role as the band's frontwoman, oozing charisma both cool (I'm Mad) and sexy (I Can't Hear You). The only thing is that Jack White's presence is much more apparent on this record, and it takes away from her performance - not in it that it undermines her or even lessens her performance, but simply that this results in less of her to hear, and frankly White's high pitched register doesn't work quite as well with the dark, 70s hard rock sound the band is going for this time around. The real issue with Cowards, however, is the sameness to the songs. As mentioned before, there are some tracks that show more interesting ideas than others, and the overall songwriting has grown a good amount, but this results in everything blurring together a bit. Cuts like Hustle and Cuss or No Horse do sound better than most songs off of the first album, but they don't quite stand up to Horehound's singles, either. The songs are unquestionably good, but they lack a certain catchiness, and sound better when heard as part of the whole set than by themselves.
So is Sea of Cowards better than Horehound? It's hard to say. While the songs here branch out a bit more and are better composed, it lacks stand out tracks and therefore makes it easier for the songs to blend in with each other. It's not a huge step forward, but given how quickly it followed its predecessor, they show an eagerness to experiment and a genuine passion for the music they're making together, and even for a supergroup with this kind of talent, that's hardly a bad thing.