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Them Crooked Vultures: Them Crooked Vultures - Album Of The Week Club review

Is Them Crooked Vultures more or less than the sum of its Led Zeppelin/Foo Fighters/Queens Of The Stone Age parts?

Them Crooked Vultures
(Image: © Interscope Records)
Them Crooked Vultures: Them Crooked Vultures

Them Crooked Vultures

(Image credit: Interscope)

No One Loves Me & Neither Do I
Mind Eraser, No Chaser
New Fang
Dead End Friends
Elephants
Scumbag Blues
Bandoliers
Reptiles
Interlude With Ludes
Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up
Caligulove
Gunman
Spinning In Daffodils

Just when everyone thought the supergroup was dead, along came Them Crooked Vultures. Bringing together Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones, what could easily have lapsed into an indulgent vanity project instead worked much better than anyone dared imagine.

Talk of the band started buzzing in the mid-00s but nothing came until 2009, with a UK tour selling out in 12 minutes before anybody had even heard the bloody thing. They also played Download Festival in 2010, second only to AC/DC because, well, AC/DC. 

With Homme taking vocals and guitar, it’s an  album that throbs with familiar echoes of Queens Of The Stone Age, Foo Fighters and clavinet-heavy Led Zeppelin, alongside those of 60s psychedelia, a grooved-up James Brown and even Berlin-era David Bowie.

Built on what sounds like a series of extended jams (with the fat ultimately trimmed off), the playing is breathtaking in parts, not least Grohl’s laid-back fills that build into sudden furious, explosive trips around his kit to harry the whole thing on. 

"We would walk into the studio every day with no ideas," said Grohl, earlier this year. "We would sit down, we'd have tea, we'd have coffee, we'd start jamming. By the end of that night, we'd have an eight minute-long opus. Just a rock masterpiece. It was incredibly inspiring. It was a really incredible time. I hope that someday we do it again.”

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Other albums released in November 2009

  • Katatonia - Night Is the New Day
  • Slayer - World Painted Blood
  • Weezer - Raditude
  • Snow Patrol - Up to Now
  • Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions
  • Bon Jovi - The Circle
  • Puscifer - "C" Is for (Please Insert Sophomoric Genitalia Reference Here)
  • Stereophonics - Keep Calm and Carry On
  • The Devin Townsend Project - Addicted
  • Fall Out Boy - Believers Never Die – Greatest Hits
  • John Mayer - Battle Studies
  • Dark Funeral - Angelus Exuro Pro Eternus
  • Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - The Live Anthology
  • Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live
  • Bob Seger - Early Seger Vol. 1

What they said...

"Them Crooked Vultures often feels overstuffed with the weight of too many ideas. This is especially true on longer cuts such as Elephants and Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up, the latter nearly eight minutes of prog-fuelled, time-signatured madness that closes with an extended instrumental outro. Sure, these guys have earned the right to do that, but that doesn't make it a good song." (Pitchfork

"It’s an oddball groove-rock album, played very well, imprinted with Homme's undeniably interesting personality. Yet when all’s said and done, it's not particularly memorable and entirely lacks the type of yee-haw exuberance that might have made it a sloppy treat." (Drowned In Sound

"The biggest pleasure of Them Crooked Vultures is hearing three supremely gifted players fall together quickly and easily on songs built on simple riffs that sound like they were made up on a lark five minutes earlier." (The AV Club)

What you said...

Alex Hayes: I can't place the exact moment, although it happened during one of the earlier tracks on the album like Dead End Friends or Elephants. However, there was a certain point during my first full listen through of Them Crooked Vultures' debut (still their only release to date), that I suddenly came to the realisation that I was enjoying it way, way, more than anticipated.

This was only a couple of days ago. Like many others, I can remember the publicity machine that surrounded the band at the time. A 'supergroup' formed by Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and no less than John Paul Jones? The media were all over it. I seem to recall New Fang getting more than it's fair share of of radio airplay and hype. I was unmoved though. For some reason, not even the presence of a former member of Led Zeppelin, my all-time favourite band, piqued my interest enough to actually want to go and check this album out.

Frankly, my expectations for this were pretty modest. Personal 'research' into the album, basically just reading it's Wikipedia entry, told me that it sounded a lot like Queens Of The Stone Age (how could it not really, given Homme's input?). I had no idea what to make of that. QOTSA were a band that came to prominence in a period when my appetite for new rock music was at an all-time low. Honestly, my enthusiasm levels are actually far higher nowadays, as I hurtle towards the big Five-0.

The album's opening track, No One Loves Me & Neither Do I, didn't exactly set the right tone for me either. It was alright, nothing special. Gradually though, as mentioned above, that eureka moment came and my appreciation levels grew ever higher. A combination of killer riffs, superb interplay between the three musicians (I don't think I've ever enjoyed Dave Grohl's drumming more), and belting songs like Scumbag Blues, Reptiles, Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up and Gunman had completely won me over. What a pleasant surprise. The second time was the charm as well.

There are some downsides. Even as late as 2009, the music industry was apparently still labouring under the misapprehension that punters wanted quantity over quality. Them Crooked Vultures is a daunting 66 minutes long. It's far from the worst offender when it comes to having an unnecessary run-time though. Compared to other albums from the CD age (a certain album beginning with the letter 'L', for instance), Them Crooked Vultures feels slightly less padded out with mediocre tracks and filler material. It is undeniably there though.

So, there we are, a long-ish review for a long-ish album. A really satisfying one too. I got a hell of a lot more out of this than expected. Hmm, maybe now is finally the time to go and give Queens of the Stone Age a try?

Iain Macaulay: I love the Queens, they restored my faith in rock music when Rated R was released. I love Kyuss too, come to that. I worked in a music shop when the Import of Rated R came in and it hit us all hard when Feelgood Hit came on over the shop PA. I Love Zeppelin and I have a lot of time for Grohl, just not the Foos.

By rights I should love this album. I bought it the day it came out and I went to see them play this album live. It was an okay show. I went to see the Public Image Limited reunion for Metal Box the following night and it ranks in my list of the best gigs I’ve ever been to. I can remember so much of that show, and the songs. I now vaguely remember the Vultures gig, the same as I can vaguely remember the album. 

Even listening now, I can still say It’s good. Lots of good ideas and experiments and great over all playing. But it’s too long and too… I don’t know, unmemorable? There’s also something about the production that doesn’t sit right with me. Too dry, too processed. Mind you, the last two Queens albums haven’t done much for me either. This could have been a classic, it has all the right ingredients, but I’m afraid the cooking didn’t quite make the cut for me.

Lee Jackson: I just can’t get on with this album. No denying the calibre of the players but it (for me) just lacked the songs.

Shayne Ashby: It's good. Great playing, some top songs, a few average songs. Definitely worth a listen/relisten. 7/10.

John Davidson: I was hopeful about this when it came out, but it just didn't click with me.

The rhythm section are unsurprisingly immense with Dave Grohl & JPJ seeming to work well together, but first listen through I just cant get past Josh Homme's 'flat' vocal style and the repetitive staccato guitars.

It's easier on the ears than most of Queens of the Stone Age but still not great.

Having spent another few hours picking over the vulture's leftovers and chewing on the gristle, there are some highlights worth picking out. Scumbag Blues bucks the formula to good effect. Bandoliers is another grower that bucks the Hommes fomula a little.

The more conventionally Hommesian New Fang is about as good an example of his style as I've heard and opener No One Loves Me... is a decent slice of alt rock blues.

The rest are all much the same, but not as good, and overall this feels like three parts Hommes to one part Grohl and Jones. The two lay down some interesting grooves but Homme more often than not fails to bring a compelling melody to the party .

My last niggling thought is that as with many songs from the 00s they overstay their welcome by a minute or so. The songs are done four minutes in but don't seem to stop until five minutes are up. I know Homme likes that whole sonic landscape, trance inducing repetition style but in the absence of mind altering substances and gazing into the desert over an open fire its not as much fun.

Philip Qvist: Interesting album - and there are some very good songs on it, such as Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up, New Fang, No One Loves Me and Neither Do I, Reptiles.

However with 13 songs, and over 65 minutes of running time, it is just too long. They could have shaved three or four songs from Them Crooked Vultures and it would have been all the better for it.

For all the pedigree of the musicians, it definitely has a QOTSA feel to it, which is hardly a surprise as Josh Homme is essentially that band, with Dave Grohl guesting on Songs For the Deaf. JPJ is his usual competent self, and adds some balance to the album.

A typical Supergroup album; it isn't bad, in fact it is very good - but it could have been much better.

Hai Kixmiller: Them Crooked Vultures is loaded with ample elements of sludge metal, noise rock, grunge, stoner rock, and a generous dash of classic psychedelic rock sensibilities.

Scumbag Blues presents one of the more interesting points on the album as Josh's falsetto voice takes on a 60s Psychedelic Rock persona à la Cream or Blue Cheer.

While some of the songs, and the album as a whole does get long in duration, the infectious groove of the heavily rhythm driven songs holds your attention like a late-night infomercial; You may not really care for what you're watching but you're too damn comfortable to change the channel.

If I'm listening to this in my car; on a scale of idle to redline; I'm crusin' around 2500-3000 rpms.

Mike Canoe: If Josh Homme is the lead vocalist, it doesn't matter who the other chefs are, it's going to taste like Homme cooking. He made an amazing album in 2016, Post Pop Depression, with Iggy Pop singing, but, if Homme is the main man at the mic, he generally leaves me cold. Hanging onto Caligulove for this year's playlist, don't plan to revisit the rest.

Thick House: I just could not get into this album. It sounds like a weak Queens Of The Stone Age release (and I like QOTSA). And it's way too freakin' long - this made sense in the CD era (if you have to pay for music, you want as much of it as you can get), but makes the album a slog of mid-tempo car commercial music. The whole is less than the sum of its parts when it comes to Them Crooked Vultures.

Cameron Gillespie: To me it's one of those great but not amazing kind of albums. It sounds exactly like you'd expect it to hear, if you put Zeppelin, Nirvana, Foos, and QOTSA together. Again nothing that's overly fantastic but nothing that's overtly bad neither. 7/10.

Clay Halford: Elephant into Scumbag Blues is one of the best song pairs I can remember. It also almost serves as the demarcation line between the more straightforward rock of No One Love Me, New Fang etc and the more trippy Warsaw, Interlude With Ludes and Spinning In Daffodils. Does it go on too long? Probably a few songs could have been cut. Is it well played. Oh yeah. Are the high points high? Among the highest ever IMO.

I wasn't sure what to expect as I had little knowledge of Homme but was aware of the Foos and Led - this was a surprise but a grower that gets better the more you listen to it.

Gary Claydon: The problem with Supergroups is that, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, the expectation is nearly always that they will be brilliant. The higher the profile of the members, the higher that expectation is. The end product rarely lives up to the hype.

Them Crooked Vultures is actually a very decent effort - just not 'super'. The musicianship is fantastic, as you would expect, as is the production, again as you would expect. Josh Homme must have thought all his birthdays and Christmases had come at once given the de-facto brilliance of the rhythm section at his disposal. 

The front end of the album is really good. Hard-Rock infused, bluesy - alt.rock from opener No One Loves Me Neither Do I through to Dead End Friends which seems to have borrowed the riff from Rocket From The Crypt's On A Rope. Elsewhere, Scumbag Blues is excellent and Gunmen sees the trio locked into a nice tight groove.

Downsides? Too many tracks. There is an air of 'sameness' to proceedings after a while. The two longer tracks, Elephants and Warsaw... have a looseness to the playing that suggest the boys were having fun but they do give the impression that the fun spilled over into self-indulgence. Or maybe they were simply trying to cram too many ideas in at once.

Overall, the album comes across a little too much like Josh Homme and friends rather than a true group collaboration, a bit like his 'Desert Sessions' projects. Which is a bit of a shame 'cos JPJ is excellent, as is Grohl, who I really wish would get behind the drum kit a bit more often.

They were very good live as well, really looked like they were having a blast. 7/10.

Final Score: 7.13⁄10 (123 votes cast, with a total score of 877)

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