Side projects were never meant to last as long as the Eagles of Death Metal has. A former vehicle for Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, the Eagles of Death Metal are turning into a veritable Frasier of rock spin-offs. The band’s longevity is made all the more baffling by its unlikely circumstances: frontman of a top-five rock band playing drums? In what is essentially a joke band? You call that a formula for success?
The fact that the Eagles of Death Metal made it to three albums — with a slew of critical accolades, devoted fans and even chart success along on the way — is nothing but a testament too the enduring popularity of balls-out rock ‘n’ roll. Well, almost nothing. In the early part of this decade, garage-rock revival was in full force and featured a lot of bands that took themselves way too seriously. The need for a sillier garage-rock band, one more “Brown Sugar” than “Wild Horses,” was at a premium.
The role suited Homme well, and even more so his mustachioed counterpart Jesse Hughes. Out of that collaboration, we get an excellent and still underrated debut, Peace Love Death Metal, and the more revered but overrated Death by Sexy. The third album of the formula, the lovely-titled Heart On, shows that the Eagles of Death Metal have reached their limits, but not without a noble effort to keep on rockin’.
The first single, “Wannabe in L.A.,” proves that the Eagles of Death Metal are still smarter than your av-e-rage joke band, though not by much. The most telling early track of Heart On, however, is opener “Anything ‘Cept the Truth.” The Eagles of Death Metal are an anything-goes kind of band, with only one thing not being allowed: taking things too seriously. For better or for worse, it’s as good a thesis statement as any.
The only problem with this thesis is that garage-rock revival is no longer in quite such a demand for ridicule. A second wave of revivalists has emerged: bands like the Black Lips, the Ponys, and Deerhunter. These bands don’t take themselves quite as seriously as, say, the Strokes or the Black Keys, but they still produce some music that may actually mean something important to people’s lives. As a result, the spoofier tracks on the album (especially “High Voltage,” which almost reaches Bloodhound Gang-level buffoonery) are send-ups looking for a subject to send up. In the end, is just seems like the band is spoofing themselves, or at least its tired formula.
Perhaps realizing this problem, the Eagles of Death Metal made the second half of Heart On much moodier, maybe even a little downbeat. When I first heard “Now I’m a Fool,” I thought I was just getting a song to keep us from overloading on the harder rocking stuff (think a poor man’s “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”). It’s somewhat of a surprise to see that it’s actually a tone-setter for the rest of Heart On’s minor-key-laden second rush. It’s certainly a surprise, and one that doesn’t entirely work. But the band gets points for trying. When you compare them to another High Voltage-referencing band currently in the news, trying something new is no small accomplishment when your goal is to stay silly.