So in the year 2009, during all the megagroup hype, one band stood above all in both status and craftsmanship. That band, Them Crooked Vultures was a surreal whirlwind of focus and chaos all at once. With legendary John Paul Jones on bass, quote unquote coolest guy in the world Dave Grohl and Joshua Homme from Queens of the Stone Age made an album that not only ended up being my album of the year pick, but also just an all around perfectly crafted rock n’ roll album. Today we add another record to my “Albums of My Life” series with the first and so far only record by Them Crooked Vultures.
The opener, entitled “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I” struts into focus in a style that basically plays on all of the members individual strengths. That’s a great part of this record. At times it feels like all of the members best known projects, but it never feels like it’s hindering on what they’ve built on their own. It all feels original and borrowed at the same, which isn't to talk badly on them, but let’s be honest; All three of their best known bands( Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters and Queens) aren’t exactly underground acts. It’s hard to unhear stuff like that when listening to this kind of record.
Much of the record is more mid tempo yet heavy and bass heavy, but songs two and three both rock really hard, and see the band at their quickest and ill tempered, which is just the sort of thing you would think this band would be excellent at. Track two, “Mind Eraser,” has Homme’s signature playing and attitude emanating from both his guitar and voice, while you hear Grohl’s tightly-knit drumming all up in the mix, driving home the point that this band is wise beyond their years as a collective unit. The next song however, which is probably one of my favorites on the record, storms in like a conquering hero who’s drunk from the celebration of a battle won.
“New Fang” has more swagger than nearly any track on the album, and the one downside of the song is that is comes not only too early in the record, but also it’s much to blink and miss it quick. Beyond that though the song is amazing. The guitar is frenetic and has this blues inspired riffage to it that manages to blow you away even after a hundred listens.
Song after song keeps the pace going in a steamroll of rock n roll at it’s best, but what sets this act apart from other bands isn't just the fact that these three entertainers are very well known among music circles, but also how little is lost when they combine. Many times I feel like in collaborative efforts one thing or another gets overshadowed and you’re left wanting more from musicians you know to be at a high level of performance. You never get that on this Self Titled record.
While the album is pretty much rock music for a mature audience, the ability of the band to mix different atypical stylings in the instrumentation is what sets the bar so high for this band. “Elephants,” track five on the record has this gradual scorched earth feeling to it, and Homme’s lyrics are brilliantly random, much like they are in QOTSA. Images of “Lumbering Giants in a Shameful Parade,” echo out as the hum of the guitar, bass and the procession of garage rock drums keep the pace of this intentional and slow but heavy driving force of the song.
All in all, the album not only feels like a greatest hits from these three musicians, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. It’s like hearing something super recognizable and foreign at the same time. You know the parts, the players, and the technique, but you’re hearing things you shouldn’t be hearing. Take a song like “Bandoliers,” with it’s mid tempo thumping and an even bass line that remains cool and succinct the entire duration of the track. The lyrical element of the song is wonderful too. As Joshua progress in his art, I find his lyrics grow not only more abstract in sections but also more heartfelt and honest, more autobiographical.
As we move into the second half of the record, something unusual occurs. See, many bands include the more in your face tracks early on in the record, and while this is true for the second and third tracks, songs eight through thirteen have a definite rougher edge to the feel of the album. Starting with the perfectly named “Reptiles,” the second half worms it’s way from great album to excellent one. Song after song hits hard and purposely, but three of them are above the others, and showcase the last strong movement of the record.
First, coming to us on number ten is the elevated sensibilities of “Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After you Give Up,” which is a bit wordy, but if you know Homme especially, wordy song titles are sort of his thing. On the topic of the song though, the listener is treated to yet another dog reference(Which if you know Joshua well as a lyricist you’ll find he uses them quite often), but the song really excels during the bridge at the three minute mark, which with it being a nearly eight minute song finds itself at a peculiar but interesting point. The jam they find and cruise on is only made better with the mix they use to highlight all of the instruments at once. It’s one of the best sections of any song on the album, but what comes next is unexpected trippy in a straight forward rock way. It’s meandering sure, but the grimy blues infused guitar and bass totally take the song to a dark trippy place you aren’t expecting.
Probably the last truly great song on the record, in my opinion, follows “Warsaw.” “Caligulove” roars and rips its way through and while it’s a fun song without a doubt, the following track is where the band hit its homer and seals the album in the realm of perfection. “Gunman” is a weird, uptempo song that has sections which are very reminiscent of the strange world of Bowie. The choruses provoke images of Bowie’s trademark voice, but it never feels contrived or lame. Homme just has that ability to rock and elevate his voice, and it continually makes the record and overall sound better.
The record, whether they make another one or not, will always be a classic for those who love the musicians, and maybe if the world is lucky they'll grace us with another TCV album sometime soon. Thanks for reading.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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