Yes, you read that title correctly. It’s been 10 years since the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures appeared on the scene. In fact, this very week is the Tenth anniversary of their debut (and so far, only) album. And so, what better time is there to look back and bask in the infectious grooves thrown our way from 3 of the best musicians on the planet?
If you’re reading this, I daresay you probably don’t need the background, but let’s do it anyway. Them Crooked Vultures is primarily a Hard Rock band formed in 2009 featuring Josh Homme (Queens Of The Stone Age) on Lead Vocals and Guitars, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters/Nirvana) on Drums and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin/so many other things it would require a whole article to detail) on Bass and a whole host of other instruments. Of course, the surprise here comes in the form of the Led Zeppelin Bassist – sure he’s got music credits to last him a lifetime and a pass to do whatever he pleases, but in a band with the frontmen of 2 of the biggest Rock bands on the planet? Does he really fit? (Look, we know he does, I’m hamming it up for effect)
Grohl and Homme just made sense at this point, they’d worked and toured together a large amount in the past. At the time in my 16-year-old head, I was excited by the prospect of them coming together again, but kept hearing about JPJ and feeling bereft as to why he was being ‘bigged up’ as much as he was. Nowadays, it’s blatantly obvious to me, he was in one of the biggest bands on the planet (duh!). But even today, it’s probably fair to say his is the least well-known name in relation to Led Zeppelin (which isn’t a dig when you’re alongside the names Jimmy Paige, Robert Plant and John Bonham). Would he really bring anything to the table for my tastes? The answer is, of course, yes.
Let’s talk about the sound of Them Crooked Vultures, first and foremost. It’s very easy to hear and say that the album sounds a lot like a QOTSA record. And honestly, I don’t think that’s unfair – Homme is singing and playing his guitar, of course it’s gonna sound like QOTSA! But I think what’s even fairer to say is that they sound more like a QOTSA/Led Zeppelin hybrid, but that the Led Zep influence is perhaps less noticeable. I posit to you that Grohl’s drumming style alongside JPJ’s Bass provides a pretty close mimic to what you had in the original Led Zep line-up with Bonham. Grohl has made no secret of the influence Bonham’s style had over his own drumming, and it’s especially clear in how hard the 2 drummers hit the drums, providing a thundering backbeat to any song that needs it.
The 2 styles come together in the just-shy-of 70-minute self-titled album, and I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to call it one of the best albums by a supergroup that’s ever been released. It definitely has a couple of problems, which I’ll touch on shortly, but on the whole I think it’s an album that puts on display the craft of 3 incredible musicians who know exactly what they want to do, how to do it and, most importantly, how to make it engaging to the listener. Throughout and almost in entirety, the music has an undeniable groove, which is lead by the Rhythm section and JPJ in particular, which Homme then elaborates on over the top to create songs that frequently sound symmetrical, but are often ever so slightly off-kilter in ways that come in and out of focus as they progress. I think that’s my favourite thing about the whole album – it’s a great listen in and of itself, but it’s very rewarding to really listen to the instrumentation behind what’s at the forefront.
Time signatures are all over the place even in single songs, which I adore! The song ‘Elephants’ for example starts with an immediately infectious guitar riff, which pulls you in and grips on tightly, before going double time 10 seconds into the song and really letting loose. In fact, there’s not a moment of speedup on this album that feels unearned and each time makes me want throw myself around in pure joy! And make no mistake, this album sounds HEAVY. It may be subtle at times, but as previously mentioned, with Grohl’s drumming even the most trivial moments can feel like a stampede erupting around you. Perhaps the weirdest thing, especially to me at least, is just how incidental the lyrics are. I’m usually a lyrics and vocals first kinda guy, that’s what I latch onto. I can honestly say 10 years later that I know very few of the lyrics to the songs on this album after countless listens. The music really is doing the talking here, with the vocals mostly just peppered over the top (which isn’t a slight, the melodies are still great and Homme’s ability to turn a phrase is still very much on display when it wants to be across the album’s 13 tracks). And I’d be remiss not to mention penultimate track, ‘Gunman’, which is my favourite song on the album. It features a riff that simply will not let you stand still, and is one of the purest examples of badassery in music that you could possibly give. And what’s more, it still feels fresh and new today, it feels almost ageless!
I did mention that there’s one or two little nit-picks I have with this album, and I think they’re probably issues that a fair few people take with it. The big one for me is that I definitely think a few of the songs start to outstay their welcome, the biggest culprit being the song ‘Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up’, a nearly 8 minute track which to me personally has used up its great ideas by the 4 minute mark. Which goes hand in hand with my second little nit-pick which is that I do think the album could stand to lose 10-15 minutes. I personally believe that if the whole thing were a little bit tighter, this is an album that would be looked back on with way more admiration than it seems to be getting.
Which leads me to look at the future. Whilst Them Crooked Vultures toured for a solid year in support of the album, in the time since we’ve seen nor heard anything concrete from anyone in their camp in regards to the supergroup’s future. All 3 members have been on record over the last 10 years saying they’d be interested in doing it again, Grohl and Homme even doing so within the last few months. It makes me wonder, would Them Crooked Vultures be a welcome return in 2019 or 2020? It’s hard to say. Would I like to see it happen? Definitely, but a part of me also really likes the flash-in-the-pan nature of the album. If they were to come back and release a second album that wasn’t up to snuff, it would leave me pretty disappointed. So, I’m in two minds about it. Then again, I wasn’t lucky enough to see them live, so the chance to do so would be excellent regardless. Lastly, do I think it will happen? Yes. Yes I do. And I think it’ll be sooner rather than later too. I mean, John Paul Jones is 73 at time of writing. If it’s gonna happen, surely it’s not too far away? Only time will tell…
By Matt Dobbie
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