Tuesday, November 17, 2009

CD Review: Them Crooked Vultures

When reviewing a new band made up of established musicians, the temptation is to search for comparisons to past works, to evaluate the new based on the old. Sometimes it bears fruit, Chickenfoot is, after all, nothing but another bad Joe Satriani album, admittedly with vocals. them-crooked-vulturesUpon listening to Them Crooked Vultures debut release, the comparisons are begging to be searched out, but the search bears little fruit.

Them Crooked Vultures line-up consists of three significant artists in slightly different areas of rock: Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones; Foo Fighters front man/Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl on drums; Queens of the Stone Age guitarist/singer Josh Homme fronting the band. The result is heavy, pounding rock that hints at the bands roots without ever stealing from them.

During the pre-release live shows Them Crooked Vultures have performed, drummer Grohl has aped his Foo Fighter drummer Tyler Hawkins, with a drumming style that can best be described as bombarding. Constantly in motion, the drumming doesn’t let up. On recording, however, Grohl displays a much more restrained drum style, preferring to stick with the groove, and let the song shine. It is both effective and enhances the music. On the other hand a band fronted by the singer/guitarist from one band is bound to have similarities between the bands. This happens less frequently than you would expect with Queens of the Stone Age/Crooked Vultures front man Homme. Of course it has hints of Queens, as lead singer that’s inevitable. But the risk is always that such a band as Them Crooked Vultures will be an extension of what the front man has always done, and the risk has been nicely avoided here.

Another risk posed by this grouping is that Them Crooked Vultures would become karaoke Led Zeppelin, with Homme having a perennial turn at the microphone. Dave Grohl is an avowed John Bonham fan, and teaming him up on drums with Bonhams rhythm mate Jones, the risk is real that Homme would be playing guitar and singing over an unmistakably Zeppelin back beat. This rap is, too, nicely avoided. Sure, Jones pulls out the clavinet and vamps Trampled Underfoot during Scumbag Blues, the effect is, however, subtle and in the background. In fact, the song borrows far more from Cream than any other known influence. Jones really noticeable creative contribution to this effort is in the arrangement. The songs, almost without fail, twist and turn, bridges with no connection to the song, Codas from left field, time changes, all staples of the Led Zeppelin catalogue, and common through this disk.

If we’re comparing Them Crooked Vultures to Led Zeppelin, however, it should also be noted to the negative that what Them Crooked Vultures lacks is some of Jimmy Page’s famous, “light and shade.” There are few respites from the very heavy, grinding hard edges rock music. No ballads, no light spots outside of psychedelic 60’s tinged Interlude with Ludes, that sounds like a reject from Jones days producing Sunshine Superman, a brass band coda on Mind Eraser no Chaser, a Bontemi Organ ending to Caligulove, and the piano intro to Spinning in Daffodils. The otherwise lack of breathing space may be the bands weakest spot.

It’s strength? The songs. A constant array of solid blues based rockers, including the opening single, the eminently catchy New Fang, No One Loves Me and Neither Do I, The Bowie meets Hendrix Mind Eraser, No Chaser, Elephants, Bandoliers and the aforementioned Scumbag Blues. All superior songs that more than compensate for a few weaker numbers towards disks end.

Being a fan of earlier rock and roll, I like to play a game with new CDs that come out. I trim the song line-up down to 8 or 9 songs - 40-45 minutes of music - as an LP would have been in the 70’s. It offers a fairer comparison between a newer CD and an older album, where much of the excess that makes it to a CD would get cut in mastering. Here’s what I get
Side one

No One Loves Me
Mind Eraser No Chaser
New Fang

Side Two

Scumbag Blues
Warsaw or The First Breath You Take

That’s an album that belongs in my collection. Two sides of great music that blend together into a nice whole. A great album. As it is, Them Crooked Vultures is one of the best albums in a long time, strong songs played with extremely high musicianship in an album of unapologetic rock. What more where you looking for?

1 comment:

At Home in Hespeler » The Freedom of Music: LP’s under the Christmas Tree said...

[...] brought Them Crooked Vultures in all it’s double LP, gatefold cover glory. I reviewed the album via you tube download, when it first came out. If your interested in what I have to say about the music, that review [...]