Them Crooked Vultures
By Jessica Misener
November 17, 2009
Some people see supergroups and ask, "why?" Record companies apparently see supergroups and ask, "why not?"
Recently we've had projects like Tinted Windows, The Dead Weather, Monsters of Folk, Chickenfoot and Thom Yorke and Flea's blink-and-you'll-miss-it collaboration. Are musicians simply seeking extra cash flow in these recession-drained times? Tattoos don't grow on trees, after all.
The latest weapon launched from the supergroup cannon is Them Crooked Vultures, a trio comprising Nirvana and Foo Fighters vet Dave Grohl on drums, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age on lead vocals and guitar and Led Zeppelin’s inimitable John Paul Jones on bass.
Such a congregation obviously isn't going to be penning acoustic ballads to sip chardonnay to. The Foo Fighters, QOTSA and Zeppelin are three bands shot through with bona fide rock ether—no pretension, no carefully hewed edges, no marketing glitter, and TCV follows in the same vein. The result makes their self-titled debut the Chuck Norris of modern rock albums: loud, bristly and exploding with machismo.
Wisely and expectedly, the band has borrowed from each mother band’s playbook: crunching QOTSA riffs, Foo Fighters drum rushes, a generous helping of Led Zeppelin swagger. Would you expect anything but sterling musicianship from a group like this? Homme’s blustery riffs dominate—although when playing live the band is joined by rhythm guitarist Alain Johannes—and he prudently avoids a Robert Plant-like upper vocal register, instead tossing out snarls like “Think you’ve got me confused for a better man,” on the gut-punching single “New Fang.” Grohl’s drums are a tour de force, mischievously off-rhythm and relentless, and they clatter nicely against the maelstrom of sound.
While Robert Plant has taken to Grammy-winning dalliances with Alison Krauss and Jimmy Page is off filming guitar documentaries, Jones is perhaps the lowest-profile Zeppelin alum. In recent times he’s toured with Nickel Creek, and he released a solo album in 1999. His presence in TCV, then, thrusts a welcome flashback of 70s rock into the modern scene, and it’s incredible to hear some traditional JPJ bass rumblings in newer material.
And flashback is key, because TCV’s strength doesn’t necessarily come from their originality. They’re at their brawny best when channeling The Doors in “Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up,” and “Elephants” stampedes Zeppelin style like a swaying pachyderm, swapping Spanish phrases with imagery of lepers and wicked rose gardens. “No One Loves Me and Neither Do I” weaves in and out of about a dozen killer guitar riffs before erupting into “When the Levee Breaks” storming drums. Slow down, professors! “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” creeps into Foos territory with Grohl's backing vocals, while songs like "Reptiles" and "Caligulove" squeeze out some of QOTSA's metal oeuvre and Homme's background as a heavy metal mainstay.
For all its high-profile moxie, you have to wonder how and why this trio came together. Press? Boredom? True creative mojo? But speculating too much about TCV's genesis might downplay the guttural, sly spirit of the record itself. If supergroups have any job to accomplish, it's slinging out a great album with no commitments—and this one gets the noisy job done.
Jessica Misener can be found online at http://www.jessicamisener.com.