Thursday, November 19, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

Not quite a full review (well, almost!), but a few quick thoughts after a couple of listens to the new Them Crooked Vultures CD. ... This is the much-anticipated release from the latest “super group” – this one comprising John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin, Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters, and Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age.

I was fortunate to catch one of the group’s half dozen or so U.S. preview gigs this fall, prior to the release of the CD two days ago. At the time, it was interesting to hear a 90-minute concert in which all of the songs were new and unfamiliar – definitely a departure from the typical concert experience. Despite the unfamiliarity, I was impressed with a lot of the songs as played live.

Upon now listening to the CD versions, I think a few tunes were better in their live renditions. The songs “Elephant” and “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” come foremost to mind. That’s not to say, though, that the studio versions aren’t good and that this isn't a good album. In fact, it’s quite good.

Overall, the album has a hard rock vibe, with subtle jazzy and prog-rock tinges at times (due, no doubt, to JPJ’s presence). Not surprisingly, the musicianship is top notch. The band is very tight, even through some deceptively complex arrangements at points. Josh Homme’s singing, particularly on the verses, becomes a little monotonous on many songs, but the other vocals complementing the lead on the choruses redeem a lot of the songs.

The lyrics tend to be rather dense and dark of theme – noir leaning toward personally apocalyptic. Familiar clichés are twisted into clever new turns of phrase. There are numerous standout lines, though they are often buried in verses rather than highlighted in the choruses.

In the first few listens, the album grew on me as I progressed through the track sequence. I’m not yet sure if this is because I like the songs in the middle and end of the album better, or because it took my ear a while to get used to the Metallica-esque underpinings to a lot of the songs. (Disclaimer: Though I like my share of hard rock, I’m not a fan of ’80s-’90s metal, or even most grunge for that matter.) There is a sense of the songs having a usual juggernaut mode, which thankfully is broken by more melodic turns here and there.

A few thoughts on particular tracks:
• No One Loves Me & Neither Do I – Can’t miss the “Walk This Way” phrasing of verse vocals on this song; other than that, though, it’s not particularly derivative of Aerosmith. There’s some nice roto-tom percussion and lead guitar touches. The tempo works its way into grinder mode by the end of the song, albeit with some jazzy tinges.
• Mind Eraser, No Chaser – There are decent harmony vocals on the chorus, but overall this is my least favorite song on the album. Probably one of the ones most reminiscent of Homme’s and Grohl’s primary bands. Not a bad song, just more typical of the genre’s clichés than most of the others.
• New Fang and Dead End Friends – Both are somewhat non-descript, but highly listenable and propulsive songs. In fact, “New Fang” is quite a jaunty rocker.
• Elephants – Heavy guitar riff-rock. The slashing guitar parts were more appealing live.
• Scumbag Blues – This one really harkens back to the original super group: Cream. Its Jack Bruce-like vocals are coupled with blues rock guitar leads that jump out of the speakers and funky keyboards straight out of of Zep’s “Trampled Under Foot.”
• Bandoliers – Its Spanish trills aside, this one is almost U2-esque, most notably in the Bono-ish lead vocals.
• Reptiles – Jazzy hard rock and one of the most Zeppelin-sounding tracks on the CD. A good one, too.
• Interlude with Ludes – Sonically, one the biggest departures from the rest of the album. Flavors of The Beatles at their most psychedelic.
• Warsaw or the First Breath You Take After You Give Up – One of the slower and bluesier tracks on the CD.
• Caligulove – Another one of the more distinct songs on the album, it features a twisted carnival-cum-Doors organ break and a few bits suggestive of Bauhaus.
• Gunman – Features Bowie-esque vocals and an ’80s pop groove feel in the bridge.
• Spinning in Daffodils – The album ends on another grinder, though the tune’s closing features some good harmony vocals and more melodic prog-rock guitar (including some slide) and stand out bass licks.

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