Track-by-track: ‘Them Crooked Vultures’

Dave Grohl. John Paul Jones. Josh Homme. Have you ever seen a more delicious supergroup lineup?

At first perusal, the record may leave the listener with a sour taste, due to the mass of concurrent ideas and combative instrumentation. Throughout the thirteen cuts here, the band’s cumulative musical range is absurd, and whilst there is some self-indulgence, the one and only studio effort from three of rock’s most well-regarded icons is not one to forget.

Now, it’s clear that vocalist-guitarist Josh Homme takes the creative lead on this project, as much of the material screams Queens of the Stone Age, rather than Foo Fighters.  The same quirkiness and off-piste aura Homme has established with QOTSA neatly garnishes many of the cuts here. There’s a fair share of Zeppelin, too.


 

“Well if sex is a weapon, then smash, boom, pow,

How you like me now?

You can’t always do it right, you can always do what’s left” 

This quip is delivered in opener No One Loves Me & Neither Do I and as you can see, Homme’s famously quick wit is not amiss. Following this inexplicable raunch, Jones is given the creative space he deserves and runs wild with exploratory bass lines and slide guitar licks during the repetitive bridge section. A definite highlight of the record, as all three musicians outperform each other in relation to their respected disciplines.


 

“All I wanna do is have my mind erased

I’m begging you, pleading you, stop comateasing us all

Drug company, where’s a pill for me?

It reads- mind eraser, no chaser- in bright lights”

Homme gives a rare showing of his wah-pedal and steps up the ferocity in Mind Eraser, No Chaser, with Grohl providing a slice of his vocal prestige during the chorus. There’s a certain fast-paced punk vibe to this cut, proven in the multi-layered guitar lines in the dynamic chorus and fast tempos throughout. And let’s not forget the whimsical horn section that closes out the track…


 

“Sometimes you break a finger on the upper hand,

I know you’ve got me confused… For a better man”

With a Grammy win for Best Hard Rock Performance, New Fang was also the lead single for the record. It’s perhaps the most straightforward cut, cutting out many of the bells and whistles many of the other tracks here possess. Because of this, it remains one of the most vanilla-sounding songs here, but still an absolutely solid rock cut.


 

“I follow the road, blind 

Until the road is dead end 

Night’s in my veins, it’s calling me, 

Racing along these arteries”

Dead End Friends begins with a wacky isolated guitar lick, sandwiched in-between Grohl’s crashing drum sections. Homme’s lick transcends into a driving groove – this simple three-chord riff makes it one of the grooviest cuts on the record for sure.


 

“We’re unwanted strangers, 

Exploited and dangerous, 

Unable to hide or even dream of it”

One could not simply write off the sheer badassery of the intro riff to Elephants. About as anthemic and prolific-sounding as Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’, Homme outdoes himself with his incredible dance around the frets, with about as many hammer-on’s/pull-off’s you could shake a stick at. At first, it’s subdued, stumbling into the foray, before it kicks uptempo and Grohl’s Bonham-like playing style comes into play. However, the track is overly bloated; it’s just under seven-minutes and features a groggy chorus (with multiple repetitions) before Homme & co. wave goodbye with that riff. The Zeppelin is strong in this one.


 

“You may think me altruistic, 

Feel my dark hypnosis closing in. 

You won’t make it out.”

Instrumentally, Scumbag Blues is one of the most impressive affairs. Grohl’s erratic kick drum hits like a stern jab to the heart, Jones runs wild with his dynamic bass play and Homme’s riffing/soloing goes through many evolutions. It does have a bit too much going on, especially during the chorus where a high-pitched guitar refrain is encircled by prominent synth and Grohl’s ever-dominant drum lines.


 

“Bandoliers

To fight you, dear

Nobody caused the rift,

Can’t become what I’m not”

Bandoliers has a subdued vibe running throughout, a small respite from the full-on sound of previous cuts. Homme’s croons soulfully matching the downtempo instrumentation. It’s one of the highlights for sure, many thanks to the tremendous bridge section where Grohl truly demonstrates his drumming chops. Jones’ keyboard synth lines provide an extra, spaced-out layer to the unrivalled guitar-drum dynamic.


 

“For the reptiles 

I guess you’ll never know 

They won’t let you go 

Cause you’re the soup du’jour. that’s for sure”

There’s many, many wacky elements to Reptiles. It does fall weakness to the recurring theme of simply too much going on, as much of the time there are at least three guitar lines combatting for the spotlight. Homme twists and turns the guitar around his unpredictable vocal melodies. The choruses prove to be sweet sections as Homme’s vocals sound filtered through a fish tank.


 

“Sleep deprivation will make you a million

Did you just hear something crazy?

I got my fingers crossed you’ll catch something baby

Cause I just threw myself at you”

Now, Interlude with Ludes, instrumentally, is a surprising outlier on the record. It’s a spooky composition that sees Jones experiment with an Optigan, creating much of the track’s atmosphere. Intermittent vocal lines add to the eerie aura, with Homme bringing a fantastic demented guitar lick into the mix during the bridge. A lot of the instrumentation here would have sounded right at home on QOTSA’s Lullabies to Paralyze.


 

“Feel like a no-tell motel painting,

Out of place or ignored

It’s all medals and trophies, trophies and medals

And all before the race has been run”

Homme tunes his guitar to Drop A to create the pulsating riffs present within Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up. The track stomps along ever-so satisfyingly, with Jones providing backing vocals during the contrastingly optimistic-sounding chorus. A turning point is reached where the band members seem to enter a state of calculated improvisation. Homme begins with a sultry, wah-soaked refrain before a gradual increase of time signature culminates in an epic crescendo. The following section is a brooding semi-instrumental with Homme’s scrambled murmurings, before returning to the initial groove.


 

“Darling, there are no taboos

In lust

My veins coarse blood that’s so

Venomous”

Restoring the upbeat tempo, Caligulove sees Jones inject some Ray Manzarek-like keyboard solos into the band’s sonicality. Another highly-grooving cut, Homme’s single-strum chords form a stunted aura to the cut. At this point in the record, Caligulove doesn’t bring many new elements to the table that the preceding tracks didn’t, yet does feature a quaint instrumental outro, similar to that of Mind Eraser.


 

“You’re so clever you’ll tear us apart,

Then masquerade it as art

Not smart”

Penultimate cut Gunman packs an instant punch, driven by dominating guitar refrains steeped in octave and wah, yet with a chorus that is light and airy, akin to much QOTSA material. Grohl’s use of cymbals adds to the sheer dominance of the surrounding instrumentation.


 

 

Closing cut Spinning in Daffodils harkens back to QOTSA’s ‘A Song for the Dead’ with relation to their peculiar tones and instrumentation. Beginning with a delicate piano lick, it doesn’t take long for the outright weird to take its toll. Homme and Grohl crash in with tandem playing, creating a feeling of impending menace. As the track approaches its final act, it does purport a feeling of euphoria through its high-octave optimistic instrumentation, which slowly (only partly) fades out of the mix. Thus, leaving Jones’ twangy bass and Homme’s relaxing slide guitar to see out the record.

“I… 
Am so high 
I just 
May 
Never come down.”


 

Essentials: No One Loves Me & Neither Do I – Elephants – Bandoliers – Warsaw – Spinning in Daffodils

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