Wednesday, 11 August 2010

REVIEW: Them Crooked Vultures - Self-titled

On paper, Them Crooked Vultures have got all the right ingredients for your ultimate rock band super-group, with a salivating line-up: Dave Grohl (the musical prodigy behind godfathers-of-rock Nirvana and Foo Fighters), Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal mastermind, as well as ginger icon in a world of Mick Hucknall's) and John Paul Jones (former bassist of legendary Led Zeppelin). Signed to the record-label giant Sony, the UK leg of their upcoming tour sold out in 12 minutes and they've been hugely hyped by the likes of Zane Lowe. However, it is not until now with the release of their self-titled debut that they have been able to justify the flurry of excitement currently surrounding the trio.

It is during album opener "No One Loves Me & Neither Do I" that you are first hit with the realisation that this band is not merely a mash-up of previous projects but an entirely new beast (or rather, bird). And an ambitious beast at that. That is not to say that the member's back catalogue has been abandoned altogether, which would be an absurd thing to do considering their huge commercial success and general kick-ass-ness. Their extensive repertoire is echoed throughout the record. There is no denying that this is an album of epic proportions. This is refelected in its length of 13 tracks, of which only 3 are under 3 minutes, and also in the sheer musicianship that you'd expect from these three muskateers. They are determined to prove that they are not one-trick-ponies. Homme's raw vocal spans throughout the record from the sultry warblings of the first track through to the punk punch on track "New Fang" via the Kid-A-esque haunting of "Interlude with Ludes".

The album opener sees the band warning that their going to "lose control" and you can't help but stand back when you're hit with "huh!" and the irresistible hook, reminiscent of Rage circa "How I Could Just Kill a Man". "Mind Eraser, No Chaser" offers more of the same vicious shredding layered with a harmonised vocal. This is one of the intricacies of TCV that separates them from beign just another rock band; drawing a parallel with early Kasabian (we're talking L.S.F (Lost Souls Forever) here, pre-Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire, before you accuse me of blasphemy). However, following this hardcore guitar action our moshing is cut short roughly 60 seconds from the end of the track to be greeted with a bizarre organ outro that I can only describe as possessing the ability to transport me back to family holidays in Devon by the seaside.

The flourish seems to me to be an ode to individuality and quirkiness; but instead of the desired reaction of "ooh, kooky", it just leaves the listener with something of a furrowed brow. In striving to mark themselves out from the rest they admittedly sometimes miss the bulls-eye, such as in track "Interlude with Ludes" in which they attempt to tear a leaf out of Thom Yorke's book. However, the confusing mesh of echoing percussion, background howling and the sense of a vague chorus falls flat; it seems strangely out of place nestled amongst the potential quintessential rock anthems of "Dead End Friends", "Reptiles" and "Elephants". In fact, somewhat ironically, TCV are at their best when they're stepping outside of their comfort zone of heavy guitars and thrashing and into a groovier arena. This is demonstrated in Queens of the Stone Age-coated "Scumbag Blues" in which the throbbing base line, Homme's crooning falsetto and funky organ undertones tie the track together to razor-blade greatness. The same can be said for "Caligulove" whose tight rhythm and structure into tribal dischord with a Muse-dreneched riff that carries the track as if on the shoulders of sweaty moshpit victims. This is the case up until, say, 60 seconds from the end. "Caligulove" bites the dust. Another victim of the Queer Organ Outro which just seems as if Grohl and Co. have run out of juice and whacked any old sample on the end.

It's a shame given the vast majority of the tracks are gold dust but let down by either the Queer Organ Outro (or Q.O.O for short), intentionally "quirky" flourishes or just the sheer length of the tracks. "Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up" clocks in at a monster 7:50. This length, although presumably intended to reinforce the feeling of grandiose epic, is nothing short of tiring (at least for my attention span). It is possibly at the expense of the impressive vocal line as seen in "Elephants" which may as well be an instrumental with Homme's tones providing nothing more than embellishment. The long solos also begin to grate as more self-indulgent than entertaing by the end of all 13 tracks on the debut.

Believe the hype, they're definitely worth a listen.

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