By now the word is out that there’s a group menacing the globe, consisting of Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal, Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters and John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin. They are referred to as Them Crooked Vultures and farmers in Lower Backwardistan are locking up their farm animals and taking away their daughters’ iPods in response. What I’m trying to say is that press has been ridiculous for this band. I’m late in telling you what to expect in anticipation of their debut album’s release, but I can examine whether or not it’s worth all the hype. Read on for a full report or merely trust the newly coined Backwardistinian phrase: “Baq’oolhie akhla q’ah”. Roughly translated, it means: “The foreigner’s suitcases are full of lobsters,” a folksy way of saying that this CD’s music won’t match what you think it will be, no matter where you’re coming from.
The least-known of the trio of Vultures, Josh Homme, is actually the front man, playing guitar, singing and writing the lyrics for all songs. If you’ve not experienced his demented genius from QOTSA, for one, that’s a mighty big rock you’re hibernating under, Mister Oblivious. His weird love songs for the dimensionally challenged and the eternally wrong are once again offered for our amusement. That’s proof of misconception number one — somehow Homme was going to de-weirdify in order to sell more records. Pfft! The cover art alone should have tipped you off! There are dapper, malignant vulture-guys complete with bumbershoots lurking in your phone boxes. Weird Zone dead ahead!
Dave Grohl typically relinquishes the drum throne to Taylor Hawkins when running his Foo Fighters Empire. See, Dave can sing and play guitar, quite well in fact. But since backing that Cobain guy a while ago, he’s also taken every opportunity available to wreck some heads and break some sticks. TCV’s debut has him beating the snot out of his kit as if it just drank his last Red Bull. I mean, it’s like he was caged for decades and forced to watch footage of Ginger Baker drunkenly skidding his unsecured set closer to the stagefront. Filled with anger and a desire to remain free, he’s attacking the skins and trying to make them bleed – rhythmically so, of course. This disproves misconception number two — Dave’s here to play drums; he’ll sing you something on the next Foo Fighters record, alright?
So there’s Robert Plant-flowing hair, bulging jeans. Jimmy Page-double-necked guitar that plays sloppy solos when performing live. John Bonham-vodka-fueled human metronome of love. And John Paul Jones. Um, what did he do again? Well, he’s only the thing that held that train wreck of a band Led Zeppelin together!! He’s a multi-instrumentalist and he was great at filling in the details of those Hobbit songs and that blues thievery that the Page/Plant team brought to the studio. So, he’s brought into TCV because that’s what he excels at. Have you heard The Butthole Surfers’ Jones-produced Independent Worm Saloon? It’s pure dissociative, dysfunctional discordance in need of a bass player and a babysitter. It’s also pure brilliance. Thus we disprove misconception number three — John Paul Jones is here because he kicks ass as a musician and producer, not because this project needs to sound like Led Zep.
I only need to cite a few examples from amongst the songs on Them Crooked Vultures to illustrate my hypotheses. Starting with the CD’s first single “New Fang,” and the incessant pulse of Jones’ bass right up there alongside Homme’s manic freakout of a Hendrix-ian solo and the spatter-bash of Grohl off his leash, this is not music like that we hear anywhere else, including on any of the Queens of the Stone Age records. Homme is Wendy the star on all of that, but he’s backed by both Marvin AND Wonderdog as his Superfriends here! “New Fang” is punishing slag-blues with Homme’s falsetto wearing the mask of the dominatrix.
If you can get the song “Bandoliers” out of your head after hearing it, well, you’re not me anyway. This song is a Mexican standoff of a crumbling relationship with sick, little guitar trills and the most addictive build-up of a drum pattern I’ve yet encountered. Jones’ bass noodlage is more like a Phil Lesh line and he’s pulling out some of the bizarre keyboard patterns you might’ve heard on the way to “Kashmir”. My girlfriend and my son are already tired of me locking this one down on REPEAT for, like, two months straight!
“Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up” is like The Vanilla Fudge trying to get that support slot they want behind Uriah Heep and bringing Al Jourgensen in to help them get it. It’s some sort of pogo space-blues with the capsule’s solar-aligned compass on the fritz. Never mind that the lyrics are about how you’re supposed to learn to deal with complete and utter defeat—by liking it.
“Gunman” is the song that Ric Ocasek never had the balls to write. OK, granted Ric probably never met Bela Lugosi and didn’t like distorting the hell out of the bottom end of his songs, but this song excites me like I was when I first heard the twists and turns of the radio fodder found on The Cars and Candy-O. Of course, that was 30 years ago and radio is even more timid than Mr. Ocasek now.
You close a record like this out with gypsy oompa music and a bent and wailing slide guitar after first confusing everyone with seven minutes of “Spinning In Daffodils.” This is where the group threw all the ideas they weren’t able to use elsewhere including a stately piano intro, mangled and reversed sounds, twisted guitar strangling, and very dark repetition. I think Homme’s singing about getting some revenge, but more thinking will just lead me to more misconceptions that I’ll have to refute. I don’t just think, but I know that I like Jones’ bass line in the jam at the end. He hasn’t lost a thing!
So, Cream-isms and Zep-isms can also be found on this record, but I think I figured out why. Jones didn’t put that stuff in, Homme and Grohl did. Why? They’re playing in a band with John Paul Freaking Jones and they’re paying humorous homage. They didn’t get started playing music by listening to Lulu and The Tea Set. Not only that, Jones is fun to hang around with. He’s also got a demented sense of humor like Homme and Grohl. The Cream-isms are like Frank Zappa throwing in lines from the Bonanza TV show theme when he was playing “Lonesome Cowboy Burt” live. We’re supposed to get the joke.
Please take this other Backwardistinian phrase away with you today. “Al’ aq’ arha aq’ patoot ptooey,” which means “This record is fun, original, full of great performances from established musicians, and you won’t hear anything like it for a long time.” That is, until their second record comes out and, yes, they’ve already made plans to do another. I’m making a donation to the Backwardistan Farm Animal Protection Fund as soon as I can.