I’ve always refused to entertain the media storm that often surrounds titular supergroups, a term which has been lazily slapped on any band whose members have acquired their fame elsewhere. There’s been so much forgettable music from these self-indulgent side projects in recent years that I’ve come to truly despise the term, recovering as I am from the limp efforts of Audioslave, Zwan, and Eyes Adrift. Now, along comes Them Crooked Vultures, with a lineup cherry-picked from rock folklore: Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters) on drums, John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) providing bass guitar and keys, and Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss) fronting this motley crew with vocals and lead guitar. With such a mouthwatering lineup, it would be no tragedy if their self-titled debut amounted to no more than a sum of its parts. Regrettably, my threadbare faith in the very nature of these supergroups leads me to approach Them Crooked Vultures with a degree of uncertainty.
What sets this project apart from the stockpile of self-indulgent hogwash, though, is the sense of merriment flowing through the record; egos seem to have been checked at the door, allowing the trio to freely explore a breadth of different sounds and styles. Though Homme is credited as the driving creative force behind the group, Jones’s influence is ever-present as the sonorous grooves of Zeppelin-esque riffs arrive in abundance, albeit channeled through Homme’s grimy distortion pedal. In essence, Them Crooked Vultures sounds like a 21st-century abduction of classic hard rock, packed with throbbing grooves and crunching riffs.
The album begins with “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I,” settling comfortably into a smooth blues rhythm before a pulsating middle-eight with stomping guitar work and chaotic percussion. From here, second single “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” sees Homme emulating Jimmy Page with a warped wah-wah riff and a thrashing guitar solo in the opening 30 seconds. Grohl and Homme then exchange call-and-repeat interplay and vocal harmonies for the chorus: “All I wanna do is have my mind erased/I’m begging ya, pleading ya, stop karma teasing us all/Drug company, where’s a pill for me?/I call it mind eraser, no chaser.” It’s clear, even at this early stage in the record, that the trio possess a superb chemistry considering their limited time playing together, finding their own sound somewhere between Zeppelin and QOTSA. Grohl’s imperious drum work launches lead single “New Fang,” the track which apes QOTSA more overtly than any of the other 12 tracks. Homme wails obscure lyrics amid a mishmash of separate riffs before, as with the majority of the Vultures’s tunes, the band enjoys a frenzied curtain call where all members go hell for leather with their respective instruments. If “Dead End Friends” similarly mimics Homme’s erstwhile sound, “Elephants” and “Scumbag Blues” lean toward Zeppelin’s classic rock outline: The former’s crunching hook repeatedly shifts time signatures while the latter’s squealing funk is peppered with Jones’s keyboard solos.
It’s both lazy and unfair to study the band with ceaseless comparisons to their preceding work, though, because Them Crooked Vultures offers so much more than that. On penultimate track “Gunman,” the trio summons a dense funk sound with the album’s most memorable wah-wah lick. Coupled with a haunting chorus, Homme struts through his crunching verses with suitably haughty lyrics: “Flesh and bone has no persuasion/This is the pathway to my destination/Gunman, where you been?/You’re my hero, savior, psycho, slayer.” From tip to toe, Them Crooked Vultures is composed with an endearing confidence and swagger, executed with aplomb by musicians at the peak of their prowess.