Review Summary: A dream come true with a bitter aftertaste.
I’m sure we’ve all gone through it at some point; to muse over a project that should have been certified gold, a sure-fire winner in giving you a near perfect album -- primarily for its style of music, but also because of the people involved in it -- and having it inexplicably disappoint you overall. Like when you were a kid and would sit there imagining fictional characters such as Batman fighting it out with Predator, the thought of your favourite characters joining together always felt like a distant daydream. However, when a comic such as Batman Verses Predator becomes a reality your initial emotions put you in a state of disbelief: to think that your crazy daydream entered the material realm and became a thing; but then the harsh truths rear their heads and it turns out to be nowhere near as fun as you expected it to be. These days silly crossovers like this are common practice, and indeed, some can be handled very well, but for the most part you can’t help but feel they should have never happened. All this talk about comic book collaborations seems irrelevant, but in actual fact it’s the perfect analogy for how a “Supergroup” project typically plays out. The cream of the crop from your favourite bands joining together; you’d think these talented artists would transcend the boundaries of music when they got in a room together. The truth of the matter is these supergroups largely fail, and in miserable fashion. From a lack of connection or maybe there was too much ego involved for the song to come first. Either way, I could honestly count the number of supergroups that left a lasting impression on me with one hand. And like these comic book daydreams from back in the day, supergroups have become just as much a common thing these days that I’m ultimately desensitised to the hype now.
Which brings me on to this album. A band which contains three of rock ‘n rolls most important figureheads; members who’ve been in bands that’ve left a profound and monumental effect on me, and I couldn’t possibly attempt to measure it with words. To say Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and John Paul Jones are living legends would still be a disservice to the kind of CV these titans hold. So, when it came to be that these three were making an album back in 2009, I can’t tell you how much anticipation I had for the record. Dave Grohl back behind his true calling in life; JPJ ripping it apart on his bass and Homme at the front of the stage, it seemed like another childish daydream. What kind of uncharted sound would Them Crooked Vultures bring to the table?
It was something that left me pondering with a bottleneck of suspense. And then the final product dropped…
I’ll say right off the bat, this is probably one of the best supergroup collaborations I’ve heard, yet it still doesn’t reach the level of quality I had in mind for it. But then, maybe my expectations for it were so high it wouldn’t have been possible to meet them anyway. My initial disappointment from this self-titled offering is that the mainstay sound is very much like that of a Queens of the Stone Age record – albeit a very very
tight one. The best comparison for it would be QOTSA’s Songs for the Deaf
, this is because A: it has Grohl behind the kit, so the rhythmic flow of Them Crooked Vultures
feels very familiar to it and B: it has the same heavy-hand in experimentation that Songs for the Deaf
did, with the core foundations in riff and aesthetic feeling eerily similar to something you’d hear from a Queen’s album. Is there anything wrong with this? Absolutely not, but I expected something a bit more out there than an extension to a QOTSA album. It holds the usual characteristics of a Queen’s album, with a decent helping of classic-rock influence and a massive emphasis on rhythm and groove: sections found in songs like “Scumbag Blues” and “Reptiles” really highlight JPJ’s and Grohl’s connection and understanding of their job in the band, and for that, the groove is undeniable throughout. Josh pulls out some really catchy and standout riffs as well, like the opening riff to “Bandoliers,” “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I” or the infectious “New Fang.” And then you get to tracks like “Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up” where everyone functions harmoniously: awesome experimentation with the backbone of the song, while Homme delivers his dirty stop-start riffing.
The thing is, even though every aspect of Them Crooked Vultures
is solid in every conceivable way, it never manages to get past that. 9 years on and my opinion for this thing remains undeterred; this is mainly down to how the album drags its knuckles. As great as “Warsaw or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up” starts off, it’s the longest track here and by god does it drag on. In a lot of ways, that’s this album’s biggest flaw; there’s just too much excess and not enough focus being made to tell what it needs to before moving on. There’s an abundance of repetition which can’t be overlooked as being anything other than a burden for the most part. I also think the first half of the LP is a hell of a lot stronger than the second half. There’s a lack of anything to grab onto in the latter tracks, where you could normally find solace in a hook, a riff or a catchy groove in the earlier tracks. Don’t get me wrong, songs like the “Gunman” are excellent little numbers and certainly help you in seeing this thing through to the end, but there’s definitely a lack of focus as it moves on to its end.
Like I said earlier, the odds of this album meeting my insane expectations for the time were slim to none. But now that we’re nearly a decade on from when it first came out, and I’ve accepted what its basic sound is, my first thoughts for it have remained the entire time it has existed. And as much as I’ve wanted to enjoy this, I can’t help but feel bored during a good chunk of it, or wishing it was a little more adventurous. There is a massive chunk of experimentation here, sure, the rhythm is fantastic, and Homme delivers yet another solid performance, but like a lot of supergroups, there’s a core ingredient missing for it to get anywhere near the material they’ve released as separate musicians. Them Crooked Vultures
is solid as a rock, but unfortunately it never pushes past being just that.
SPECIAL EDITION: N/A