Them Crooked Vultures – Self-Titled

Here we are entering the second decade of the 21st century and surveying the musical landscape there is a noticeable absence of what we used to call –  “rock stars’ leading the way forward. The big names like U2 and Coldplay are stuck in a rut, Kings Of Leon have veered a little too close to becoming a mall soundtrack and the big metal bands like Metallica are looking back rather than forward.

I’m not just talking rock stars in terms of fame and fortune here – more the type of musician that has an insatiable appetite for making music, collaborating and constantly injecting new life into their work.

Step forward Joshua Homme, most likely the leader of Them Crooked Vultures and the man who cut his teeth in the almost legendary Kyuss before creating his own myth with Queens Of The Stone Age. Along the way he has produced Arctic Monkeys, created the Desert Sessions and played a role in Eagles Of Death Metal.

Creating a supergroup can either be a dash for cash or an ego-stroking exercise, but when you can call on the likes of Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) to join you for an album and live shows, you know something special is going to happen. So special, in fact, that Sony built a teasing marketing campaign to hook even the most casually curious among us.

Surprisingly each individual (all are multi-instrumentalists) appear to stick to their main instruments on the self-titled album. The guitars are overwhelmingly Homme’s, the bass and drums unmistakably Jones and Grohl. As a result, the sound they generate most closely approximates that of Queens Of The Stone Age circa Songs For The Deaf, which featured Grohl on drums.

The addition of Jones does lessen the metal aspect of their sound and serves to highlight how much Grohl owes John Bonham for his behemoth drumming style. The sum of the parts are therefore more akin to a hard-rock riffing Cream; three distinct players combining all of their tricks without coming across like musicians just showing off.

Hit play and the initial sense is of being underwhelmed by the less than explosive start to No One Loves Me & Neither Do I. This is of course the intention when at 2.44 the song explodes in a monstrous plodding groove, guitars and drums locked in unison. Yes, these gents know the true definition of ROCK. Mind Eraser, No Chaser introduces the sexy falsetto croon of Homme on the Eagles Of Death Metal-like chorus and contains the first of many simple and clever lyrics with, “I’m not sorry to say we just ran out of give a shit.”

Grohl steps up to the plate on New Fang with his intricate playing. He is the true master of the drum fill, seemingly fitting stops and starts and stick-work where there shouldn’t rightfully be enough time to do so. Across the entire album, he constantly raises eyebrows with his inventive and ridiculously tight playing.

Elephants is simply monstrous. Starting like Living Colour before morphing into Led Zeppelin at their most bombastic, it will no doubt be a live highlight. Scumbag Blues takes the riffs and mutates them for the dancefloor. Jones’ bass is the star of the song with its downright –  “funky in a nasty way’ feel. The organ groove is sure to be his too. Jones furthers his claim as one of the most versatile bassists on Bandoliers, with its rolling, melodic pop groove culminating in an orchestral Zeppelin crescendo.

Reprieve from the battering ram rhythms is found on the carnival-esque psych jam of Interlude With Ludes. It’s a woozy daydream amongst the sticks and strings assault and shows the Vultures were keen to pursue experimental diversions when they arose.

The cleverly titled Caligulove is a cocksure boogie that highlights how Homme always sings sweet and seductively even when brutal riffs are marking territory around him. The song also contains another of those killer one-liners – “when heartless has a heartbeat” – from the bottomless well he seems to have at his disposal.

The final moment of brilliance is Gunman, a funk metal glam romp that out-Audioslaves Rage Against The Machine with its incessant groove and Homme’s best Bowie impression.

There are no deep thematic threads to Them Crooked Vultures, no message or concept. The trio merely relies on the fact that they are masters of their instruments with deceptively simple playing that makes the complex sound primal. Simple, fun and energising rock records don’t come much better than this – and it does reveal itself with repeated listens. With Them Crooked Vultures, the devil really is in the detail.

Them Crooked Vultures is out now on Sony Music. The band plays the following shows in January.

Tue Jan 19 – Challenge Stadium, Perth

Fri Jan 22 – Festival Hall, Melbourne

Mon Jan 25 – Riverstage, Brisbane

Tue Jan 26 – Hordern Pavilion, Sydney