The eponymous album released to much fanfare by Them Crooked Vultures does not rewrite the encyclopedia of rock and roll. It was never meant to. The album is an exhibition of the base elements of rock, blended with a style unique to the performers involved. There are a lot of reviewers and music oriented persons who are listening to Them Crooked Vultures expecting the next evolutionary step of head-banger rock.
This is the eternal pitfall of supergroups. They have a propensity for drumming up mountains of expectations and oceans of salivating fans that wait with baited breath. In the end, many supergroups end up underachieving (Asia,) being downright horrendously terrible (Damn Yankees, and well, Asia again,) or containing Sebastian Bach. Them Crooked Vultures fits into a much rarer category, and that is the supergroup which could not possibly live up to the expectations heaped upon them.
Rather than being a mash-up of big name talent openly or clandestinely manipulated by record executives in tailored suits, the Vultures were an organic mixture of three talented individuals who could cultivate talent in each other. Josh Homme and Dave Grohl are longtime friends and collaborators. John Paul Jones is the reserved living legend that Homme and Grohl openly worship. Bringing the acumen of these three accomplished and similarly-minded talents together would stand to result in a product that could rouse rock from its prolonged dormancy.
Except that this collection of musicians seems much more interested in making music than in making history. They can’t be blamed for that feeling, especially in the case of Jones, who has already turned music history on its ear once; how many legacies do we expect him to have? If this album is to make a statement, it is that there isn’t one. The album is what it is, and to listen to it for some novel musical dictum is to miss the point.
The complaint I have with this album, if I have one at all, is that thirteen tracks may have been overambitious. That’s a whole slew of original ideas from a trio that simply hasn’t played together for long enough to gel entirely. Rather, I would have preferred to see more like ten or eleven songs with a greater focus on each than a deluge of new material.
Even with that though, the album is genuinely enjoyable, if not earth-shattering. While the musicianship is nothing terribly novel, the arrangement is signed with the signature of Jones, who has always been overlooked for this singular talent. The layering of each song is multifaceted and intriguing, whether it is the beat-driven cacophony of “New Fang” or the more playful 1970’s influences of “Mind Eraser, No Chaser.” At almost no point are Jones and Homme playing the same line, which lends the album a depth that is enjoyably rare during this assembly-line driven period of rock music. The harmonies created are entrancing and infectious, as they bring together eerily reminiscent elements of the Foo Fighters, Led Zeppelin, and Queens of the Stone Age. One of the strengths of the album is that all three bands were drawn from and blended to near perfection, creating a sound that is both unique and familiar.
From the hollow Led Zeppelin blues of “Scumbag Blues,” to the sparse Queens of the Stone Age monotones of “Bandoliers,” to the wide open, brash Foo Fighters choruses of “Dead End Friends,” pieces of each act can be picked out and held up for inspection.
Homme often goes back to the same bag of tricks, playing similar half-rolls and chord progressions from one end of the album to the other. They never become stale though, as either Jones or Grohl will fill in the void with something original to each track. While “Elephants” and “Gunman” are of similar construction, the paces and timbre differ, rendering both as excellent songs of the same family.
There are a lot of subtleties on the album that add to make it great. The slightly distorted recording, the sharp tones of Homme’s guitar, the particular snap of Grohl’s snare, the impeccable timing, and the perfect Jones arrangement all add up to make the album a great collection of parts equal to the reputation of the players. Them Crooked Vultures, as band, album, or idea is a refreshingly honest and superior effort from honest and superior musicians.