For years, Hüsker Dü fans have desperately wanted a reunion. Much like fellow Minneapolis punks The Replacements, the Hüskers became hugely influential, and all too often to musicians who never actually got to see them live. Obviously, for many Replacements fans, that dream eventually came true, but even at a time when Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson were on the road bringing maximum nostalgia, each of the Hüsker Dü members dismissed any chance of a reunion.
The combination of Joshua Homme from Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones brings together three very talented people. Despite the amount of talent shared between the three men, the debut album from Them Crooked Vultures often sounded like Josh plus side band – a very talented side band, granted, but the end results drew too heavily from Homme’s influences. This could be frustrating since Jones began his career as a master arranger (he’s clearly not had a great influence in arranging most of the Vultures’ songs) and Grohl has proven a decent songwriter over the years.
The idea of Josh Homme forming a supergroup with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, on paper at least, is a very exciting concept. Imagine the energy of Grohl’s many previous works colliding with a wedge of Zeppelin fuelled goodness! Surely that means that Them Crooked Vultures should have some big appeal?
And it does. …But only really to fans of Joshua Homme and particularly his band Queens of The Stone Age. Aside from an occasional obvious backing vocal from Dave Grohl and an occasional musical flourish (but seldom more) from Jones, a lot of Them Crooked Vultures’ material feels indistinguishable from Homme’s main band.
If viewed as the work of a supergroup, most of the album is unremarkable. Homme is clearly de facto band leader and most of the music takes his usual punchy but sludgy approach. Fine if you like Queens of the Stone Age, but of little interest to other people. ‘No One Loves Me & Neither Do I’ has a fantastic riff, but fails to back it up with a memorable hook. Lead single ‘New Fang’ has a decent drum groove, with stops on the what sounds like it ought to be a pre-chorus, but again there’s nothing too memorable about it. ‘Elephants’ is rather cumbersome and drags on far too long at nearly seven minutes (a common criticism of at least half of Homme’s work), despite a decent intro riff.
‘Scumbag Blues’, a Cream style power trio workout, is one of the only times that the potential behind Them Crooked Vultures can be seen. It’s also the first time Jones’s keyboard work makes an obvious appearance. Here, he occasionally breaks into some very welcome ‘Trampled Underfoot’ styled clavinet work. Although ‘Bandoliers’ features an old-style mellotron, it’s all but buried below the drums. Such a pity that Jones’s distinctive keyboard work (a la ‘No Quarter’, ‘Trampled Underfoot’ and ‘Your Time Is Gonna Come’) doesn’t have much place in Them Crooked Vultures. It could be argued that Jones’s keyboard is the key to ‘Interlude With Ludes’, but he’s not playing much of anything resembling a tune and the whole thing is a mess.
Since Jones would be a hero to both Homme and Grohl, it seems odd that his contributions to Them Crooked Vultures would be so underwhelming. He’s credited as playing bass, keyboards, keytar, piano, slide guitar and mandolin, but most of these get lost under Josh Homme’s trademark bluster. Aside from occasional keyboards, most of his clearly audible work is restricted to the bass. While his bass playing is solid, there are a number of Homme’s chums who could have filled the bass player’s spot as easily.
Some of the material here sounds solid, but little of it makes any lasting impact. Some good riffs for sure, but a repetitive sound and lack of hooks makes ‘Them Crooked Vultures’ a wasted opportunity, considering the musicians involved. Some of this material would’ve made a decent Queens of The Stone Age album, but if viewed as more than that, it’s one of the biggest musical disappointments of 2009.