Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures (November 2009)

The supergroup, a band made up of already accomplished musicians, is always more exciting on paper than it is on vinyl (or whatever method you might choose). Take Highwaymen and Traveling Wilburys. The band Highwaymen was filled with four country superstars: Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson (!), and Johnny Cash (!!). They released three critically well regarded but historically ignored albums, which is nothing short of a devastating result to those who probably expected the greatest country music ever recorded. The supergroup of all supergroup, Travelling Wilburys, contained an even more impressive ensemble: Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, George Harrison (!!!), and Bob Dylan (!!!!). This dream team of sorts released two damn good if, and there’s no other word for it, disappointing albums before disbanding. This isn’t to say that all supergroups are doomed to inspire letdown in those who hopefully anticipate them, but they seem to be a refuge where musical near-retirees can coast through segments of their career while palling around the studio with their artistic equals.

So I approached Them Crooked Vultures’ eponymous debut with skepticism. In music, greatness is never ensured by anything, let alone ensemble. That ensemble, by the way, includes bassist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), drummer Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), and guitarist and vocalist Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age, Eagles Of Death Metal). Grohl has actually worked with Homme in the past, most notably playing drums on the 2002 Queens Of The Stone Age album Songs For The Deaf, which certainly convinces me that at least two of the three all stars at work have some sort of chemistry.

So while thinking of reasons that the end result could be mediocre, I began wondering who would be writing the songs. I mean, there’s not a great lyricist in the bunch. John Paul Jones never was behind anything regarding Led Zeppelin aside from some striking musical arrangements. Dave Grohl was obviously not only second banana to Kurt Cobain’s genius, but without a single writing credit on a Nirvana studio album, and his tenure with Foo Fighters has been more ordinary than I’d like. Josh Homme, who, and I can’t confirm this, probably wrote most of the lyrics, is still a budding songwriter. We may have three masters of hard rock instrumentation in the bunch, but we also only have three middling lyricists.

So the first quality of the album that you’ll notice when you listen is probably the most obvious: the instrumentation is fantastic. Thanks to a past obsession with the music of Guns N’ Roses, I’ve always had something of a sweet tooth for blues-oriented hard rock, which unfortunately isn’t seen a lot in music these days, so this can really hit the spot when it gets going. On “Mind Eraser, No Chaser”, we remember two things about Grohl’s past: he’s a killer backup vocalist, and his drumming really drives a song, which was probably one of the most undervalued ingredients in Nirvana’s success. John Paul Jones’s arrangements on the low end are key to the entire momentum of the band despite the difficulty your ears might have honing in on his playing. Then, to top it off, Homme’s guitar throws the edge on the sound with riffs and progressions that will keep you interested from song to song. This is enough to warrant additional listens to many of the songs, but none of Homme’s riffs get me excited enough to actually pick up my guitar to figure out how to play it.

The very first song, “No One Loves Me And Neither Do I”, is the best of the thirteen here, and it comes with a few of the unfortunately rare displays of lyrical notability that the album contains. “You can’t always do right/You can always do what’s left” and “You can keep your soul/I don’t want a soul mate” aren’t jaw dropping, but they add a depth to the song that the other twelve just don’t have. After the first half of the song, it explodes into a loud, thudding earthquake of a repeated riff that occasionally plays with the time signature just for the hell of it. After a few minutes of that, the aforementioned “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” and the lead single “New Fang” erupt with verve and power. Unfortunately, the best three songs on the album are over immediately, and I hate it when they do that. It doesn’t help that out of the next ten songs, three of them exceed six minutes and fifty seconds in length, which allows for some interesting experimentation within the confines of hard rock, but songs like “Caligulove” would probably work better as quick bursts of power.

Did Them Crooked Vultures disappoint me? Well, yes, but I fully expected it to. I doubt that in ten or twenty years, a blooming musical movement will take any sort of influence from it, and I doubt that critics and audiences will look back at it in the way that they do with a Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, or even Queens Of The Stone Age album. However, it’s quite a bit of fun, especially to the fans that appreciated those bands and want to hear more music of the same make.

B+

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Published in: on December 7, 2009 at 10:47 AM  Leave a Comment  

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