Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
Record Label: Interscope
Release Date: November 17, 2009
Them Crooked Vultures seems like it came from out of nowhere, dropping only a few short months after its members announced they'd been recording an album. Rock fans everywhere rejoiced at the thought of a collaborative effort from these three heavyweights. Perhaps the most intriguing lineup in recent supergroup memory (except maybe Tinted Windows, whose lineup was not intriguing in a good way), Them Crooked Vultures-- Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana), John Paul Jones (Led fucking Zeppelin), and Josh Homme (approximately one million different projects)-- is definitely not short on star power, but what would they conspire to lay on eager listeners' ears?
Well, as you would imagine, there's a healthy amount of good old fashioned rock 'n' roll muscle-- sixty-six minutes worth, in fact-- with Homme leading the charge. And as you'd also imagine, it does at least somewhat succumb to the pitfall of most supergroups, the failure to either sound like an electrifying amalgam of its members' previous groups or to be something completely new altogether. With Homme manning guitar and lead vocals, his presence can't help but dominate the album, so it comes across as something like Queens of the Stone Age or Eagles of Death Metal with Dave Grohl on drums and John Paul Jones on bass. But really, is that such a bad thing? After all, few artists' catalogs encapsulate the whole "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" concept quite as completely as Homme's, so who better to front a band like this?
Homme and friends waste no time getting to the sex part, as the kickoff tune "No One Loves Me and Neither Do I" features some scuzzy guitar licks and lyrics to match: "So I told her I was rich, then she asked could I use a dirty bitch. Of course," and "[She said] 'I've got a beautiful place to put your face,' and she was right." Homme's slithery vocal and effortless swagger allow him to pull this off naturally, while the same performance from another singer might have strained credulity.
If you're looking for clear evidence that this is actually something other than just another Josh Homme project, it comes on "Mind Eraser, No Chaser", on which he and Grohl alternate vocals in the chorus. With its obvious showcase of both stars, it would have made a great choice as a lead single, but you can't place fault anywhere for the selection of "New Fang", probably the most instantly likable and commercially viable track on the album. The hook is obvious, and there's a taste of the jamming that characterizes that album as a whole and hints at how much fun it must have been to make.
For relatability, "Dead End Friends" is sure to strike a chord with a lot of listeners. With lyrics like "I drive all alone at night. Don't know what I'm headed for. I follow the road blind," it definitely speaks to a guy like me, who's approaching thirty and still doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up. Its mid-tempo groove is simple and contagious, suggesting single potential. Less simple musically is "Elephants", the album's first real extended jam, which transitions from speedy riffing to an edgy psychedelic sound and then back again.
Them Crooked Vultures also provides Homme with an opportunity to explore his entire range, going light falsetto on "Scumbag Blues" (classic Homme song title, if there ever was one) and grave low-end on "Bandoliers". His approach is more straight-forward on "Reptiles", allowing the complex arrangement to take center stage. It's probably the album's most interesting cut musically, though it occasionally borders on cluttered.
Following the ethereal segue "Interlude With Ludes", the rock returns with "Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up". Somewhere in the midst of the song's nearly eight-minute run time, even on my first listen, I started to think that this is all just too much. As fun as this album is at its best, it's a bit difficult to digest in its entirety. I bet it would be awesome to see this performed live, and in many ways, that energy comes off on recording, but some of these jam sessions probably didn't need to make the final cut. That's not to say there's no reason to keep listening. Jones' keyboard work on "Caligulove" recalls the late-'60s and early-'70s classic rock with which he's associated, and "Gunman" is a clinic on the power of repetitive riffing. Once again, though, we're faced with an overlong piece in the form of closer "Spinning in Daffodils", a superfluous number given the sixty minutes that precede it.
In the end, what we're left with is a record that without question reflects the greatness of the men that created it, but finds them giving in to indulgences rather than creating a focused record. But I guess that's kind of the point. Not one of these guys has anything left to prove, and I certainly can't knock them for living out a wish to record together and having a good time with it. A number of these tracks will likely be in my rotation for some time to come, as there is some truly terrific stuff here. However, as a whole, Them Crooked Vultures is a perfect example of more adding up to less.