[15 November 2009]
The fruition of a long anticipated gathering between Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters and Nirvana), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) is a fun, dirty little album. It’s a unique brand of lo-fi, whiskey bar, teeth-kicking rock and roll. Big, mangy and wild-eyed, it’s full of boogie and heat. Them Crooked Vultures find stomping energy in a big, old-fashioned bluesy groove.
For months now, the rumors of jam sessions between previous collaborators Grohl and Homme, as well as former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, have progressed from the category of absurd fantasy to reality. The intriguing pet project between two of modern rock’s more prolific mainstream songwriters and the rangy icon of Led Zeppelin’s low end seemed too good to be true. Then the trio took to the stage on August 9, at the Lollapalooza after-show in Chicago and since then a rash of bootlegs of the band’s heavy groove spread like wildfire through YouTube and music industry inboxes.
The band has obviously drawn a lot of comparisons to its members’ previous projects. From the red and black imagery on the cover to the interlock between distorted bass and Queens alumni Dave Grohl’s drumming, the trio comes off a bit like the Queens of the Stone Age’s sick cousin. Eerie and grimy, Them Crooked Vultures brings that brand of spacey rock together with a rootsy electric vibe and Homme’s familiar croon.
So to, do past projects from Jones and Grohl haunt the band. The punchy drive of John Paul Jones carries all the flavor and variety of his Led Zeppelin days and the pounding heavy fill of Dave Grohl remind you of some of his best work behind the kit for Nirvana. The dynamite riffs and rhythms on “Scumbag Blues”, “Gunman” and “Bandoliers” sound so balanced and ultimately memorable because each member of the group is precisely where they should be, offering their best side to each others’ talents in a mix that thankfully sounds oddly devoid of ego.
From the pocket jam that opens the album, Them Crooked Vultures lights into the speedy bar brawl anthem “Mind Eraser, No Chaser”. Throughout, odd instrumental fills and eerie melodies flicker like weird shadows behind verses and give the album a fantastic depth.
By “Dead End Friends” the guys hit the vein of energy and hazy adrenaline at the very core of the album. The thick licks and dick kicking rhythms of tracks like “Elephant” and “Bandoliers” work up a frenzy that reaches its hungry zenith with the sure-fire signature tune, “Scumbag Blues”. Underground, sleazy blues music played by self styled greasers, deadbeats and the kind of guy you find sitting in the darkest corner of a bar wearing a pederast moustache. The unapologetic, sweaty, self-satisfying rock music smells like unlaundered underwear and carries the musty funk of decades of guitar smashing, over driven outsider fusion. This four-and-a-half-minute tune with shades of Cream vocals emerges as the most organic on the entire album.
The scaly desert slither of “Reptiles” and the muddled swirl of “Interlude with Ludes” takes the dirt bag mantra of the trio to new lows and the album climbs and vintage deep tracks and harmonies in “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up”. The last riff “Spinning in Daffodils” sounds like the dive bar cover band cousin of the “Immigrant Song” as it bleeds into a creepy echoing coda and folksy chant that closes the book on Them Crooked Vultures.
The best part is, once it’s all over you can’t help but start the beast all over again. This stomping, panting, sweaty monster is a great listen.