Supergroups are generally looked upon with disdain by the snobbier sections of music journalism, not least because they rarely are as good as the marketing suggests. It's been interesting, therefore, to see the mainstream music world go pretty nuts with praise for Them Crooked Vultures, featuring Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones - a talented bunch of lads, as I'm sure even the most gnarliest of Black Metallers would agree. Perhaps this wave of praise is merely the sound of a thousand music journalists releasing their collective held breaths as they realise that they don't have to pretend to like The Libertines any more - the identikit Indie crap that has been thrust upon the Rock-loving public over the last decade is beyond a joke, and if Them Crooked Vultures does nothing but turn the world's attention back to Classic Rock then it deserves praise for that alone.
Of course, there's also the pretty big chance that from talent, good music flows, and considering that neither Homme nor Grohl have been at the top of their game for a while (I'll admit to enjoying the last Foo Fighters album, but it wasn't a patch on earlier works, and Queens Of The Stone Age have been on a steady decline since Songs For The Deaf) all those kickass songs that have been pent up, waiting for an outlet couldn't help but burst free when the Led Zeppelin legend entered the studio, right? Right?
Well, sort of. Go into this unusually long album with an open mind and the chances are that you'll have a great deal of fun, the enjoyably complex music some of the best Rock that the mainstream has produced in a good long while. Homme especially, on guitar and vocals, is on fine form, his voice at its most pleasant as he knocks the riffs out easily, but it's impossible to overlook Dave Grohl's more than solid drumming (he's always been better at that than he has a frontman or guitarist) and, of course, John P. Jones on bass, keyboards, piano, slide guitar, mandolin and vocals is a vital element in the mix. The three seem to work together wonderfully from the overall results here, a varied pack of songs that are neither afraid to experiment nor to rock the hell out.
The difficulty comes, however, when you try and pick highlights from the tracklisting. Opener No One Loves Me & Neither Do I is an enjoyably groovy Led Zeppelin-influenced stomper which subtly builds up before suddenly intensifying and launching into something very close to Stoner Rock just past the halfway mark - it's a damn sight better than anything QOTSA or the Foos have done recently, and is surprisingly heavy too. Mind Eraser, No Chaser follows, catchy with its technical stop-start riffing and singalong chorus, ending with a tongue-in-cheek brass section before the percussive intro of the rather Arctic Monkeys-esque New Fang, which in turn is followed by Dead End Friends, sounding almost exactly like Queens Of The Stone Age did when they were still a great band rather than an ok one.
Unfortunately, from then on the album swings wildly between repeating its previous successes and foraying off into rather boring territory. I won't be so cruel as to say that the band only bothered writing four songs, but I can certainly see why people have been disappointed - the start of the album is simply excellent, but then Elephants comes along and spends over six minutes going exactly nowhere. Overly repetitive and bordering on tedious, the shift in quality is shocking and whilst if you persist it does grow on you in a cloying, unhealthy way, it's near impossible not to just hit the skip button, and once you've started skipping tracks you'll find yourself doing it again, jerkily pressing 'next' like a junkie trying to stop the shakes from returning. Scumbag Blues nearly works, marrying Homme's falsetto vocals (often enjoyably creepy when used in QOTSA) to a retro-rock soundtrack driven by clavinet, but doesn't seem to have any other ideas, whilst Bandoliers is just the band on autopilot, setting their sights on the end of the track and pressing on until they arrive.
The frequent weird moments elevate this a little and prove the talent behind it all, like the off-kilter psychedelia of Interlude With Ludes and the group chorus in Warsaw or The First Breath You Take... yet it serves only to save the album for true fans. There's the argument that this is just three rock stars having a mess about and should be taken no more seriously than that, and if you're such a fan of any of the three that you can listen to every studio excursion with blissful abandon, then by all means eat this up. It's not actually bad, but it can seem rather repetitive after a few listens, especially if you go for all sixty-six minutes each time - cut down and polished, this would be a nice little album. As it is, unless you are a complete and utter nerd of a music journalist who likes to imagine rock stars working together all chummily in the studio, be prepared; lower expectations and enjoy Them Crooked Vultures for what it is. And what is it? A decent album from a great set of musicians, all too often praised for who they are rather than what they create. A fun yet flawed listen. An album from a rock supergroup, who could and will do better individually, but which is ok for the moment for fans prepared to grit their teeth when necessary.MySpace
Killing Songs :
No One Loves Me & Neither Do I, Mind Eraser No Chaser, New Fang, Dead End Friends
|Goat quoted 67 / 100|
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