Them Crooked Vultures
Them Crooked Vultures
11/21/2009 - Review by: Maya Ahuja
I have to admit that when news hit my first thoughts and emotions were not impressive repartee but more along the lines of varying expletives; initially overcome with a level of hysteria, followed by nervous excitement and then shock – I knew that I might need some sort of counseling to get over the report that a super-group such this had been formed; John Paul Jones (JPJ), Josh Homme and Dave Grohl were Them Crooked Vultures; this being pretty close to an amalgam of my favorite musician's of all time in one place, on one stage and in one STUDIO! Yes I was at pre-sale, pre-pre-sale and although I still hadn't managed to get tickets for London, I was going to Birmingham.
Just as I had thought long and deep about entering some form of said counseling, it was almost too much to bear when last night I happily logged online and found that the band had, very cleverly, decided to stream the entire album! Entering the Youtube URL faster than my little figures could tap at the keyboard I had downloaded, I mean streamed the entire album. Of course there was no doubt in my mind that this was going to be a beast of album, but the question was what kind of beast, we had only been tempted so far with 'Mind Eraser, No Chaser' after all.
The album's opener 'No One Loves Me & Neither Do I' is a stomper of a Zeppelin infused track that sounds (as you may expect) as if it has got into bed with the quirkier side of QotSA and the Foo's. This being the mere appetizer of the album we move on to the recently released single 'Mind Eraser, No Chaser' an energetic track that stops for fleeting moments to come up for air in its stop-start rhythm that are taunted by the cajoling guitars.
As one of my personal favorites on the album 'New Fang', Grohl enters with the most absurdly heavy groove ridden drums heard in a long time, which Homme's main riff certainly plays no bridesmaid to; his lead guitars whispering like a Lolita – before the vocals bark out in line with the swinging bass line. Not that Homme and Grohl ever needed a master class in how to groove but you cannot help but hear the legend on bass, bark out in homage to a resemblance of 'How Many More Times' which is fine by me.
With the energy maintained, 'Dead End Friends' speeds through with no time to stop and runs right into the questionably entitled 'Elephants'. This track grinds into town, but before long is off full charge ahead, angled on its target which seamlessly meanders to and from the decisive lethargic tempo, by and between its altered dream state that cleverly adds an alternate depth and colour to this dinosaur of a riff. Sprinkled with Homme's accusatory rasping at the accused this makes for a well rounded headbasher.
If there is any track that could be likened to Viagra this is it 'Scumbag Blues'; from the outset it oozes über cool, über groove and anything else that is 'über' hot. This one has more swagger in its hips than the Ginger Elvis himself. From the simple cocky stomp that it strikes in with, carried by Homme's trademark falsetto to JPJ's deep rooted moving bass line, Grohl knows exactly where to drop his beat to make this track pure gold. The guitar that whines away in ecstasy and is almost constant throughout, never vying for attention it gets almost every shard of light pointed at it, all this amongst the velvet vocals barked out lusciously by chorus 'O' Homme. The descending chorus is bass heavy which adds a stunning difference of texture, altering the state from 70's groove to the dark side – working strangely as well as a Goth-rocker marriage made in heaven. Exiting with his solo, Homme's guitar squawks back into the original groover with enough time for one more choral reprise.
Beginning to realise that even Vultures nests have dark corners the mood becomes peppered with shades of darkness as we move into 'Bandoliers'. As the lonely guitar sauntering up to the momentarily lagging drums and bass we realize that this track is predominately about the narration, ushering in a feeling of the tango and perhaps the Wild West somehow. The song is the first track we hear some legendary JPJ keys on and there is at least a little room for reminiscence of latter day Zeppelin.
'Reptiles' is the crazed beast on the album, and in my opinion there should always be at least one! It ricochets from a syncopated slide driven blues riff to Homme's insane loosely strummed guitar, his flexibility of style befitting the feel completely. Just as you think you have a grip on the melody and where this one is leading it changes its sense of direction like a deranged SatNav, and it's off road this time to enter in the next addict. 'Interlude with Ludes' is a drugged up hippy of killer tune. It's substance of choice is smattered over what sounds like a reverse-run sample over off and on percussion. You cannot help but smile when listening to this junkie as Homme's vocals hiss and swagger through it in some sort of sadistic ruse of the one he watches in wait for.
Our maniacal stalker creeps into 'Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up' that is a red-hot of a kick-backed track that is all about the rhythm and groove and proves things don't have to be complex to be impressive, they just have to be played with a hellava lot of feel. The fairground-feel chorus rolls into it's mid eight that bumps into the guitar solo that is laid over a simple blues line that gently canters up the tempo. You might expect Homme to riff the face off this space but he doesn't – maintaining restraint he instead breathes into another repetitive section over ride percussion and mirrored doom infused bass line, leading us on a psychedelic vibed journey which then languishes at the feet of the original stomper of a riff ending half beat.
Another star on the album 'Caligulove' boasts more incredible riff writing, more 'Presence-esque' keys and illustrates more versatility in the vocals. The track momentarily halts all action as Homme's command to segue through the desert to a random harem and to the finish line; complete with quirky and very random QotSA ending. Now you would be forgiven if you thought for a moment you had had ended up in a 70s disco with some real horrorshow going on. You are in the land of 'Gunman'. The disco-beat verse leads fluidly into the minor descending chorus that sounds like something out of an old fashioned horror which for me is the best part of this song. The looping guitar links this altogether neatly before lurching back to the disco (I am still undecided about this it has to be said) for one more dance.
Questioning whether you had wondered into Muse's rehearsal room, it soon becomes apparent that this is the dramatic closer 'Spinning in Daffodils'. The tranquility does not last long, as we are rudely interrupted by the grinding of strings, Grohl's hideously heavy tub-thumping and JPJ's acerbic bass archaically entering forth like a herd of unhappy Vikings. Homme's accusatory, drawling, snarl feels like a five-star hangover from 'Lullabies..', produced with more itch, fever and altogether attitude. Grohl pounds the flesh off a poor victim to the back of the room, while JPJ adds a few for good measure to the soundtrack of Homme's wandering guitar that stalks on high above the bloody mess guiding us to where we outro to the perishing slide guitar which momentarily passes over what sounds like that of a fairground, from the bizarreness of a circus to the tree tops.
This album was always going to be open to harsher criticism than if any one of these musicians had written with their respective bands. For me at least, it has been hard to find fault in any dark corner of this work (even as a huge fan of all three of these guys back catalogues). Comparisons were always going to be drawn from the influences from their previous accolades but one thing is clear that this album is by no means a re-hash of any of their previous sounds. This is a unique blend of all influences and it is easy to hear from the insanely intricate percussions of Grohl, iconic versatility and strength of Homme as a Vocalist and his unique guitars to of course the legendary power and prowess of JPJ's bass playing (and keys) which magically give one another the space to breath and shine in their own right. All in all this is an album with full on, dosed up riff writing at its very best. Go on and enjoy!
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