Let’s be honest: What makes Them Crooked Vultures a “supergroup” unlike any other “supergroup” this decade is the presence of John Paul Jones. Other than a former Beatle, a former member of Led Zeppelin is perhaps the biggest get for any potential “supergroup,” let alone one that also includes former members of Nirvana, the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age. From that standpoint, it shouldn’t be surprising in the slightest that Them Crooked Vultures has already rocked out a number of packed mid-sized venues. What’s more disappointing is the eponymous debut album, which suffers from the same fallacy that too often plagues “supergroups”: the tendency of its band members to please each other more than to please the listeners.
Despite the presence of John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl, it’s clear from the start that the star of the show is Josh Homme, who has yet to have a success to match 2002’s Songs for the Deaf, not to mention just about any release by the band’s other two members. Them Crooked Vultures sounds more like an awkward attempt to introduce classic hard-rock rhythmic synergy into a Queens of the Stone age album, an effort that proves remarkably disappointing.
Grohl, who has played drums for QOTSA previously, does as well as he can, as does Jones, whose bass skills are so underutilized that it reminds you why he thanked Page and Plant for “remembering his phone number” upon Led Zeppelin’s Rock Hall induction. Despite being given the most rope, Homme too often sacrifices his signature rapid-riff repetition to try to make his guitar sound as epic as Jimmy Page’s. The result produces nothing of what makes either guitarist great.
The basic musical problem of Them Crooked Vultures is this: Homme’s guitar work and vocals are a lot more modern than Jones’s bass playing or even Grohl’s drumming, which gave Nirvana the classic hard-rock sound the band needed to cross over with Nevermind. There are all the traditional problems of pop metal here, too: songs that all sound the same, deceptively misogynistic lyrics, and the sacrifice of songwriting precision for virtuosic displays that border on masturbatory. Despite being the smallest draw of the band, Homme was no doubt allowed to dominate by Grohl and Jones by some bizarre metric on the overrated/underrated scale.
I have no doubt that seeing Them Crooked Vultures live is a worthy experience. It’s probably a lot more worthy than anything you’ll find on the band’s album.