These days the term -supergroup’ has been over-used so much it’s virtually redundant. For every Cream, CSNY, Fantomas, or The Good, the Bad and the Queen, there’s a half-assed Mongrel snapping at the heels of good taste. Them Crooked Vultures are of a different pedigree altogether though. The rock classes have been chattering incessantly since main Foo Fighter and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl let slip in a 2005 interview that he was forming a band with two other hard rock icons. He said at the time: ‘The next project that I’m trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme [Queens of the Stone Age] on guitar, and John Paul Jones [Led Zeppelin] playing bass. That’s the next album. That wouldn’t suck.’
Well four years, a quickfire recording session in the Mojave desert and a few rapturous secret gigs later, TCV have emerged with an album that doesn’t suck – and it’s just about super enough to glue that clichÃ©d tag to their hides. Them Crooked Vultures is a dirty sprawling beast that revels in its rock posturing – without Grohl and Homme grovelling in the background like classic rock fanboys fawning over their hero.
Given the members’ credentials, it’s impossible to approach Them Crooked Vultures without playing spot-the-influence. Grohl hammered his way like a demon through QOTSA’s career-defining Songs for the Deaf, and this backbone to Homme’s swaggering swamp rock is a sturdy launch pad for the TCV sound. The Queens’ greasy riffs, dry wit and spaced-out harmonies do bubble under like hot springs on the likes of -New Fang’, -Dead End Friends’ and -Mind Eraser, No Chaser’, but there’s no sense the trio is coasting along on autopilot. Jones’ low end rumble works wonders keeping the machine well-oiled and primed, most notably on -Elephants’, a seven-minute workout that sounds like it’s about to career off the road into a ditch at any moment. His occasional organ also adds a psychedelic brush stroke to songs like -Caligulove’ and the sneering -Scumbag Blues’, a stomper that could easily be the inbred cousin of Jimi Hendrix’s -Purple Haze’ and Cream’s -Strange Brew’.
Don’t be expecting -issues’ to be tackled here. When it comes to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, Josh Homme has, ahem, previous. After all, ‘Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol / C-c-c-c-c-cocaine’ were the sole lyrics on QOTSA’s breakthrough hit -Feelgood Hit of the Summer’. Plenty of bad medicine gets dispensed on Them Crooked Vultures; a ‘DIY kit lobotomy’; an LSD trip on ‘the good ship Lollygag’ and a warning that ‘the mind’s a terrible thing to waste’. There’s no time for wimpy comedowns though – Homme revels in badass sneering and jagged sarcasm, and his menacing falsetto will always be the knockout punch of any project he’s part of. His range is getting even better these days too – hollering lines with Grohl on straight-up headbanger -Dead End Friends’ one minute, then pulling off a stoned whine on -Interlude With Ludes’ that almost sounds like Thom Yorke on Kid A. On album opener -No One Loves Me & Neither Do I’, he even shoots a line straight out of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s canon: ‘Well if sex is a weapon then smash boom pow, how ya like me now?’
At 66 minutes it’s no short sharp shock to the system, and Them Crooked Vultures lives up its name – constantly meandering off the straight rock’n’roll path with dirgy breakdowns and tempo changes . There’s always an argument for brevity in rock but for Grohl and Homme this project could be a one-off – who’d have the balls to stop John Paul Jones playing his sweeping piano intro on -Spinning in Daffodils’, or the brass band skit on -Mind Eraser…’? These whimsical detours add an extra depth without surrendering to any need to produce great art. This isn’t fine wine – it’s a bottle of whiskey that’ll be smashed against the wall as soon as it’s downed in one go. Hic.