Written by: Stephen Kondracki, Special to CC2K
Fresh off the timely announcement that the Foo Fighters are taking an indefinite hiatus, Dave Grohl is returning to a familiar spot behind the drum kit with the newest supergroup on the rock scene, Them Crooked Vultures. The unsurprising duo of Grohl on drums and Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme has teamed up with the more unlikely addition of Led Zeppelin bass player/rock god John Paul Jones for what amounts to a curious but fitting musical mash-up, with wet-dream-inducing potential.
The self-titled debut album, set for release on November 16th or 17th, depending on your home continent, is a gritty collection of organic, expertly crafted, blues-tinged rock songs. Of course, each member’s signature is pretty clearly and predictably stamped on the overall sound: what we get from Dave Grohl is, obviously, that of his Nirvana/QOTSA tightly wound beat factory, rather than his frontman alter ego (don’t worry, he still comes through with the clutch harmonies); Josh Homme belts out his smooth haunting melodies better than ever, but he really claims the spotlight with his frantic and relentless guitar work; and of course, John Paul Jones contributes pure unadulterated deliciousness from his multi-instrumental talents, first and foremost being his unmistakable bass lines.
Overall, the sound and production of the album sports a heavy but tasteful Zep influence. It manages to steer pretty clear of “rip-off” territory, but let’s just say it’s front and center, in a way that makes it pretty awesome. A few tracks however, most notably “Dead End Friends” and the first single “New Fang,” could easily be mistaken for a new QOTSA tune. This is as disappointing as it is understandable – in that it’s an obvious “safe” decision to make your first mark in the pop world with a proven commodity. But hey, it’s a damn good song, so who’s to judge? At least the album opener, “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I,” is among the strongest and most original songs on the album. It’s sure to please fans of anything from Muddy Waters to the Danzig just as much as fans of the members’ former projects. Be careful though – it starts off slightly pedestrian, but just get half way through the song and then try to convince me you didn’t start to head-bang at least a little bit.
The album simply takes off from there and doesn’t let up until the end of the droning epic-ish closer “Spinning in Daffodils,” save for one garbage track, “Interlude With Ludes,” which is actually quite terrible. Songs like “Elephants,” “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” and “Reptiles” are laden with guitar riffs and rhythms that sound like they’re straight off of Led Zeppelin I or II (or III or that other one). John Paul Jones also flashes some more talent with various keys-based instruments in cuts like “Scumbag Blues” and “Caligulove,” both being standouts among the solid collection of tunes.
There isn’t a whole lot in the way of sing-along choruses, nor should there be, but that doesn’t mean it lacks anything in the way of catchiness. The aforementioned “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” features a brief Grohl lead vocal that proves to be among the most memorable hooks, but there’s certainly no pop to be found on this record. Oh, and speaking of kick-ass song intros (was I?), “Gunman” has one. Unfortunately, the rest of the song kind of sucks. That’s a bit of a letdown, but I suppose it actually speaks to their credit that such a strong full-length album, clocking in at over an hour, has such a sparse amount of filler.
Given the fact that he was the originator of this project (and the virtual monopoly he has asserted over popular rock music in the past two decades), it’s almost surprising that Grohl’s songwriting style isn’t nearly as conspicuous as that of Homme’s or Jones’. In fact, there’s more of the Black Keys and The Doors on this album than the Foo Fighters. The only song that I would say reminds me of a FF song is the vivacious “Bandoliers,” and even that’s a stretch. Rather, I have to speculate that Jones had a substantial say in the creative process – as I mentioned, the Led Zeppelin style is ubiquitous on most of the compositions – instrumentally speaking, of course (there’s nothing remotely close to a Robert Plant vocal on this record).
As the frontman for this project, but by far the least legendary of the three collaborators, Homme clearly stands the most gain from the group’s success, and he appears to have nailed it – this album really serves as a solidification of his creative talent. He’s a veritable guitar genius and an apt vocalist with authentic raw emotion. Not to downplay his personal accolades or popularity, but I think it goes without saying that the success of Grohl and Jones eclipses that of Homme’s. In light of that, he carries more than his own weight in contributing to this high profile endeavor.
So how does the group compare to the ghosts of supergroup past and present? The final answer to that may take some time to ferment, but from the step-off I’d say it’s “up there.” It’s a tough comparison though, because A) there’s no level playing field, musically, when compared to Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young or The Travelling Willburys; and B) the best thing that a group like the Raconteurs (Jack White of the White Stripes + Brendan Benson + members of The Greenhornes) managed to do was create a sound that is better than the sum of its parts. So, are Them Crooked Vultures (that’s impossible to write with correct grammar) better than Queens of the Stone Age, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin? Of course not, but they certainly kick the shit out of Velvet Revolver, so enjoy.