Published on January 20th, 2010 | by Thompson1
Them Crooked Vultures: Making the Possible Totally Impossible
The words “super group” are thrown around rock and roll often, but very few bands saddled with the term live up to the outrageous expectations. About a year ago I heard Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones were forming a band. I screamed for joy that day thinking all I have to do is live until the debut. As long as I got to hear that album I knew I could die a happy man.
I never thought I would make it…in fact, I nearly didn’t. I wrecked my motorcycle and nearly got run over by a semi on the interstate not more than 3 months ago, but apparently I was meant to hear this album.
You can’t deny the band’s credentials. They may be three of the best rock musicians in the world right now, all of which changed the genre forever in some way, shape, or form.
Josh Homme introduced the world to guitar riffs played through bass amps as a member of Kyuss at the age of 21, and the stoner alternative rock movement was born. He then organized Desert Sessions, one of the most proclaimed jam sessions in the history of the world. Homme was far from satisfied with the facelift he gave rock and decided to give it a boob job, too. He then launched Queens of the Stone Age, a revolving collection of musicians who may be responsible for arguably the greatest modern rock album (post 1980) of all-time, Songs for the Deaf. Not only is Homme rock and roll’s personal plastic surgeon but certified psychiatrist as well. The bluegrass-influenced band, Eagles of Death Metal, was originally a therapeutic method for high school friend, Jesse Hughes, to cope with a nasty divorce.
Dave Grohl had already made quite a splash drumming for Nirvana – the band responsible for the death of hair metal. The man wasn’t done after the shitty weather of Seattle got to Kurt Cobain. Grohl jammed with Homme at Desert Sessions, where this band really takes root. Grohl went on to front Foo Fighters, but that wouldn’t keep him from drumming for Homme on Songs for the Deaf.
And if you don’t know who John Paul Jones is you need to take the rock you’ve been living under for the last 50 years and bash your fucking head in. He may be the greatest bassist in rock and roll history. Every rock song ever created most likely has its roots in Led Zeppelin, and the all-important blues bass line JPJ has been laying down for decades.
You may be wondering why I am qualified to write a review of this album, and my only answer is that I have heard everything each of these musicians has ever released, and my study of their music far exceeds any research I did in college. Their music has been, at times, the only thing that gets me through a day on this Earth. Songs for the Deaf helped me deal with my parents’ divorce. Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy is the reason I graduated college. And Nirvana’s Bleach helped me realize how cruel this life can be. I’m not saying I’m an expert in rock music, but I know what good rock is and what it is not.
Good rock and roll consists of three essential elements:
- It’s All-American. All great rock music has its roots in an American genre – the blues. As Jack White said in It May Get Loud, “When you’re digging deeper into rock and roll…you’re on a freight train headed straight to the blues.”
- It doesn’t try too hard to be popular. In fact, the more controversy rock music creates the more popular it becomes.
- It’s simple. Rock appeals to such a large audience it’s important that everyone understands it. The genre was never meant to be an opportunity for bands to “show off” their skills. It was meant to be something everyone could play so new music would always be created…so rock would never die.
For a while I thought rock and roll was on the verge of death. I hadn’t heard an album dedicated to the progression of the genre since Queens of the Stone Age’s Era Vulgaris…until Josh Homme leaked Them Crooked Vultures on YouTube to avoid losing a bet with his band mates. From the first minute of the first song, “Nobody Loves Me and Neither Do I,” I knew I had found the heroin-like, blues-infused injection my body needed. I proceeded to listen to the album 8 hours everyday for two solid weeks. It was the drug I had been searching for, and the drug rock and roll needed.
The album doesn’t stop bringing the good feelings…ever. “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” and “New Fang” present the controversial lyrics and catchy, quick guitar riffs essential to rock and roll. “Elephants” is carried by John Paul Jones and his bluesy bass line, and Dave Grohl adds his creative fills on “Bandoliers” and seamlessly subtle tempo changes on “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up.” But the best music on the album is when you can’t pick who is carrying the song. On “Scumbag Blues,” my favorite song on the album, the band successfully creates something driven by Homme’s electric guitar and Clapton-reminiscent voice, while John Paul Jones lays down the perfect blues bass line and adds some rhythm with the clavinet, and Grohl keeps perfect time adding his surprising and awe-inspiring percussion. The song is a look into the future of Them Crooked Vultures and what they are capable of becoming.
Without a doubt, Them Crooked Vultures satisfies the three requirements essential to rock and roll. The blues is not only apparent in the bass of John Paul Jones, but in the lyrics and song titles as well. These songs are about pain and revolution despite the make-you-want-to-dance rhythms, as “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” makes very clear. “I know that I am your dangerous side effect. I’m not sorry to say we just ran out of give a shit.” The songs obviously never try too hard to be radio hits, as the lyrics send the distinct message, “We do what we want, and you’ll like it.” The most surprising element of this album is its simplicity, however. With three masterful musicians you don’t expect simplicity to be an element that shines through, but these men realize that no man is bigger than rock and roll. There are no selfish, 3-minute guitar solos and no Narcissism to speak of. These men love rock and roll just as much as their audience does, and they made sure their debut was something everyone can enjoy.
Can I die happy now that I’ve heard this album? No. In fact, I would be incredibly disappointed to die having missed the follow-up to Them Crooked Vultures’ debut. This album has only escalated my interest, and now I must hold it together until something new comes of this “super group,” because I only imagine this band getting better with time, which is pretty scary considering how good they are already.
So are they a super group or just another flash in the pan of rock and roll? In my opinion, the album is a monumental debut of three musicians finding their sound incredibly early in the band lifecycle. Bands that have played together for years couldn’t release an album this good because they don’t understand how to use each band member’s abilities to the advantage of the band. Homme, Grohl, and Jones have put selfishness aside and focused on advancing the genre, which is a breath of fresh air for every rock fan. Is the album Songs for the Deaf? Absolutely not. Is it Bleach? No. Is it Houses of the Holy? Of course not. It’s not even Eagles of Death Metal’s Death By Sexy. But that’s why it’s great. Them Crooked Vultures isn’t trying to be any of the bands these men have been before. They are something different entirely…for the good of rock and roll.