Them Crooked Vultures
Rock supergroups aren’t exactly a novel concept, as evidenced by the likes of Audioslave and Velvet Revolver from this decade as well as classic groups such as Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The idea might be a bit outdated and overdone as of late, but when the opportunity arises to create a band of talent musicians that has the potential to be better than the sum of its parts, it’s hard to resist the temptation.
Luckily, Them Crooked Vultures is just that type of band, featuring Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age on vocals and guitars, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl on drums, and Led Zeppelin’s legendary bassist, John Paul Jones. Homme fronts the effort on the group’s self-titled debut album, leading the way with his signature drawl and barrage of wacked out, fuzzy riffs while Grohl and Jones keep the rhythm section locked tight and steady.
The Led Zeppelin undercurrent flows throughout the album on cuts such as lead single “New Fang,” where the intro drum pattern bears a striking resemblance, if not a semi-intentional homage to Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” It’s no surprise given Grohl’s unabashed admiration for the Rock pioneers. Meanwhile, Homme’s airy vocals in “Scumbag Blues” bring Cream to mind. However, this frenetic rocker is no “Sunshine of Your Love.” It mixes Homme’s wild soloing as his fingers go berserk on the fretwork with some of Jones’ groovy staccato clavinet that could’ve come straight out of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition,” resulting in a masterful modern take on classic blues-rock.
Although it’s a bit of a shame that Grohl doesn’t contribute more vocally to add a deeper, raucous singing style to the tracks as he does with Foo Fighters, Homme’s coarse vocals match well with the music’s unadulterated rawness. The rough around the edges feel that defines Queens of the Stone Age is constantly present on this album as well, drenching the album in a deep sea of fuzz that’s heavy on the low end, complementing the more traditional, warm sounding drums and bass.
This is best exemplified in the seven-minute jam session that is “Elephants.” Grohl’s drums come on hard and heavy, rapidly transforming from a mid-tempo groove to spastic moments of rapid pounding and cymbal crashing. Meanwhile, Jones’ thick, rumbling bass riffs contrast nicely with Homme’s jarring guitar squeals, making “Elephants” a winding journey full of twists and surprises that’s nowhere near short on energy.
One could judge the lyrics for not having all that much meaning, but let’s face it; lyrics take a backseat when you have this much musicality going on. To focus on the lyrics within the scope of this band would be like concentrating on the plot of a big budget, special effects action film. The music is the action that gets your attention and keeps it focused, and the lyrics hiding in the background, not to be taken too seriously.
Things go slightly off the rails with the trippy, acid tinged spaciness of “Interlude with Ludes” and the long-winded, excessively repetitive “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up.” But other than these couple blips, the funky, head-bobbing bounce of the wah-wah tinged “Gunman” as well as the screeching guitar bends and aggressive rhythm attack in “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I” prove that Them Crooked Vultures isn’t some sort of uninspired, complacent group settling to make safe rock music.
Instead, Homme and company take the classic rock elements of Led Zeppelin, soak it in Queens of the Stone Age’s extra dirty distortion and add a healthy dose of Foo Fighters’ loud aggression to create a powerful, unrestrained sound that stretches rock to its outer limits without becoming too self-indulgent or unfocused. To put it simply, these are three great musicians in three great bands combining their forces to make a great rock album. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.