If any of you have been following the comments on Moral Fibre about this album, you’ll know before I even launch into this that we’re entering some pretty contentious territory here.
To put it in a sentence, I read a review of this album on Moral Fibre that I didn’t feel was very well researched and wrote a scathing comment to that effect, thus starting a mild shit storm of comments by other readers half of whom sided with me and half of whom didn’t.
I was asked to write a follow-up review so I could have a chance to offer my opinions on this album as well, but probably more to stir a little more shit than anything else. Controversy sells right?
So enough foreplay. I urge you before we even begin to take a fistful of stones in hand and if, by the end of this review you think what I’ve written is garbage, let ‘er rip.
Them Crooked Vultures is a supergroup that was formed earlier this year by Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (Led Zepplin). I heard the rumours of this band near the end of July, looked it up on the interwebs and couldn’t really believe what I was reading.
Sure, Homme and Grohl jamming together, that’s nothing too crazy. Grohl famously joined Queens Of The Stone Age on drums for their most commercially successful album to date, Songs For The Deaf (2002).
But John Paul Jones? The first thing I remember thinking was ‘Is he still alive?’ I did a little research and was surprised to find that since Led Zepplin disbanded in 1980, Jones has worked with everyone from R.E.M and Peter Gabriel to The Butthole Surfers and (aha!) Foo Fighters (on their 2005 album In Your Honour, which Homme also worked on).
Suddenly the bigger picture started to become clear. This is not your typical supergroup, this is not a bunch of stinking rich and nauseatingly famous rockstars who have fallen into studio for three months, half-heartedly banged out an album and cashed it in with nothing but the strength of their reputations to actually make it sell.
This is something else, something premeditated…
And so last weekend I got my hands on the album, kicked back and hit play. I have since listened to it no less than 11 times from start to finish and I shit you not, it’s still catching me off guard with riffs and lyrics that I swear were never there the first time I played them.
This is not fluffy, catchy limp-dick rock. This is dark, edgy, dirty progressive stoner/desert rock packed with more hooks than a box of fishing tackle.
The album opens with ‘Nobody loves me and neither do I’ which staggers and sways with the confidence of a lecherous drunk in a strip club, while Homme’s customary falsetto meowls and moans like a stray street cat.
Then the next thing you know, exactly halfway through the song the band breaks into an interlude with Homme singing, ‘Cuttin her loose, I’m ready to go / People in the world, you’re gonna lose control’ and the song immediately starts picking up momentum only to dump it moments later into a riff that’s so heavy it drives like an oil tanker and sounds like an air raid siren.
It’s a classic Zepplin moment that builds to a perfectly executed climax thanks to Grohl finally sitting up on his kit and doing what he does best, pounding the living shit out of it.
It’s not like anything you’ve ever heard before, it’s executed with military precision and if nothing else, should immediately grab your attention.
Track 2, ‘Mind Eraser, No Chaser’ segues flawlessly from a disjointed, syncopated verse into a catchy, driving chorous that is infectious as all hell for the simple reason that you can hear the band is rocking out and loving every second of it.
‘Gimme the reason why the mind’s a terrible thing to waste’ sings Homme, ‘Understanding is cruel the monkey said as it launched to space / Know that I’m gonna be your dangerous side effect / Ignorance is bliss until they take your bliss away.’
The first single off the album ‘New Fang’ opens with Grohl’s drumming, though there’s no way you’d guess it was him. The beat is subtle, loose, lots of cymbals, but tightens up the instant Homme and Jones jump in there.
And this is the first thing that struck me about this band. The rhythm section that is Grohl and Jones is tighter than a nun’s arsehole. They swing together effortlessly, providing a fat, solid platform for Homme to work off, and Homme fucking laps it up.
‘Dead End Friends’ swings like a party of polygamous nymphomaniacs and is a welcome change from the slightly claustrophobic opening tracks. It’s almost instantly accessible and very quickly became one of my favourite tracks on the album.
The lyrics are poetry, ‘I follow the road blind / Until the road is done out / Nights in my veins its calling me / Racing along these arteries / And love, is just a myth / To herd us over the cliff.’ Nice and dark, just the way I like it.
The fifth track, ‘Elephant’ changes tempo no less than five times during the song and feels like Homme’s attempt at packing as many different riffs as possible into one song. It will irritate you the first time you hear it. It irritated me because Homme’s vocal melody and tone is identical to a song he recorded with U.N.K.L.E called ‘Restless’ (off the 2007 album War Stories).
And that’s a mistake Homme makes more than once on this album. ‘Interlude With Ludes’ the most spaced out, drug addled song on the album (‘ludes’ are the American equivalent of mandrax) has a vocal melody almost identical to the QOTSA track ‘I’m Designer’ off Era Vulgaris (2007).
The chorous line Homme sings in ‘Nobody Loves Me And Neither Do I’ sounds like the track ‘Like a Drug’ off the QOTSA album Lullabyes to Paralyse (2005).
‘Caligulove’ sounds identical to any number of Eagles Of Death Metal vocal melodies (try ‘So Easy’ and ‘English Girl’ for starters) which, at first, ruined an otherwise great song for me.
However, is that really something to hold against the man they call ‘The Ginger Elvis’? Homme has contributed in some way to no less than nineteen albums (6 Kyuss albums, 5 QOTSA albums, 3 Eagles Of Death Metal albums and 5 double volume Desert Sessions albums) so he recycled some vocal melodies – big fucking deal.
Chad Kruger has been singing ‘This Is How You Remind Me’ for five albums (I really should stop using Nickleback as my fall-band, but it’s just so easy).
I will say this though, even after listening to the entire album the first time, it was obvious that what I was hearing, in essence, was unmistakeably Queens Of The Stone Age.
J-Ho (as he is also known) has changed the line-up of QOTSA so extensively over the past decade that he is the only original member left, so it’s no wonder he finds it difficult to shake the QOTSA sound – he is the QOTSA sound!
And yes, it’s a sound that most people don’t like. Personally I love it because no one else plays like Homme and he has an ability to find the craziest riffs and bludgeon you with them like a club-wielding Neanderthal one minute, then play them slick and easy the next.
He is also a master of tone. Most bands find three or four different guitar tones per album and stick with them (Nirvana, for example, basically had two – clean and distorted). Homme on the other hand manages to find a unique tone for almost every track on the album, whether it be dirty, rusty and infectious (ie. ‘Reptiles’ and the phenomenal twelfth track ‘Gunman’) or eclectic, clean and calm (ie. Bandoliers, another track that has grown on me over time).
Another criticism is that in some cases the tracks run too long. ‘Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up’ is nearly 8 mins long (and is also the weakest track on the album) and the average track length on the album is 5 minutes.
The plus side to this is that, as I mentioned before, you can play the album multiple times and still find new aspects to it, but the negative is that if you have a short attention span or get bored easily, the album will lose you completely.
All in all, I think Them Crooked Vultures is a great album. Give it the time it demands to really sink in and I think you’ll be pleased you did. When I listen to the album, I hear a group of musicians who are rocking out together for the sheer joy of rocking out together, it’s refreshing.
They don’t give a shit how many albums sell, why would they? They also don’t give a shit who they impress or don’t impress, I think all of them have moved far beyond that point in their careers, and I like that.
But I will say this – don’t buy this album on the strength of Grohl’s contribution, because sadly his talents as a drummer are vastly under-utilised on this album and also, don’t buy this album if you can’t stand Queens Of The Stone Age, you won’t like it.
However, if like me, you find most of the mainstream rock music that is being produced nowadays uninspired, bland and as palatable as dry toast, try this album out. I’m not saying it will change your life, but I honestly think if you have a mind twisted enough, this album will grow on you with every listen and stick like a barnacle to the hull of your rusted soul.
That about does it. Let the stones fly
Overall Verdict: 9/10