It’s called having the ‘top dog advantage’. You see it all the time in sports. A star player from a big team is much more likely to get away with a dodgy move than a ‘normal’ player guilty of the same transgression. A contentious lbw decision involving Sachin Tendulkar is liable to be ignored by the umpire; a dive by Christiano Ronaldo will most probably be converted into a foul by the referee.
Similarly, the pressure to hail an album by a new supergroup comprising Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones as a ballbreaker is intense. Even when the end product isn’t an alchemic mix of The Colour and the Shape, Songs for the Deaf and Led Zeppelin IV.
But you want to be absolutely sure about that before you make your call about the eponymous debut album by Them Crooked Vultures. It starts all heavy for sure with ‘No one loves me & neither do I’, an R&B riffer that recalls the Cream sound — until 2 minutes 45 seconds into the song, it turns into a bootstomper. The image I have in my head by this time is of an ogre crushing a patch of daffodils.
A punchy rock’n’roller follows in ‘Mind eraser, no chaser’. The guitar seems to have been borrowed from Jimmy Page. But as the track meanders on, you realise it tries to be too many things at once: a song you can pogo to with intricate guitaring, descending choruses. Paleolithic drumming introduces ‘New fang’, with Homme singing with an infectious rhythm chugging things along. The best part of the song is the chorus line, “Sometimes you break a finger on the upper hand/I know you’ve got me confused for a better man.”
‘Dead end friends’ also has a monster riff and a fog of a tune. The poundings on the skin serve the same function as a defribillator that electro-shocks a flatlined heart into action again. The jumble of guitars towards the end is, well, a jumble of guitars. Things take a ‘Southern’ turn in ‘Elephants’. The track would be able to knock off a headbanger’s head in a live gig situation with its pace changes and sudden brakes. The retro-bounce of ‘Scumbag blues’ is cute — with Homme doing a Clapton on ‘Strange Brew’ falsetto. ‘Bandoliers’ ruminates in an Alice in Chains fashion — with a dash of the Layne Staley-Jerry Cantrell off-key harmonies in “You’d better prepare/ Then take aim/ and fire.”
‘Reptiles’ has fretboards zig-zagging against each other to get into a prog rock mode. And as the title tells you, ‘Interlude with Ludes’ (referring to the drug methaqualone, or ‘ludes’ or good old Mandrax) is a psychedelic silly song.
Another heavy stomper is ‘Warsaw or the first breath you take after you give up’. This isn’t really a song but a stapled set of riffs and drum crashes (and angelic-sounding choruses in the background). ‘Caligulove’ has something that the rest of the album doesn’t: a groove. It has a nice Swinging 60s shimmy feel, which when tied to the heavy R&B sound gives off a sinister edge. ‘Gunman’ swaggers across the sound system with all guitar pedals blazing. I like the Primal Scream kind of headshaking heartbeat of the song. After the 40 seconds of (pointless) piano plonking of ‘Spinning in daffodils’, the old ogre returns, tipping the hat towards Marilyn Manson.
Effectively, Them Crooked Vultures doesn’t have a single memorable track in it. At best, it’s a soundtrack of a David Lynch movie. But what it really is, is an album by Three Big Boys of Rock cutting a demo of riffs, poundings and heavy, heavy mood music that no one dare call mastubatory. I’d stick to the White Stripes’ album Elephant if I need the heavy Rhythm, Swagger’n’Blues in my life.