Maybe it's the lilting Jack Bruce-isms that Josh Homme busts out in "Scumbag Blues" and the chorus of "Elephants", but listening to THEM CROOKED VULTURES, I'm thinking more of CREAM than of John Paul Jones's alma mater LED ZEPPELIN. Sure, there's all kinds of "In Through the Out Door" cues (the organ on "Reptiles", the stomping drive of "Elephants"), but maybe the overall impact of this surprisingly kickass album comes from that indefinable slithery oomph that only the best rock and roll power trios seem able to muster. And I wouldn't wanna go out on too big of a limb of hyperbole and call THEM CROOKED VULTURES the best example of the form since CREAM -- that'd be ridiculous, right? But I gotta tell you, it's been a while since a heavy rock record (one that the world at large notices, no less) has come down the pike with so much prowess, power and sheer exuberance.
THEM CROOKED VULTURES, for those living under a rock, reunites Homme with drummer Dave Grohl, who played on what many people consider the last great QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE album, "Songs For the Deaf". So the short review could be that it's basically a really good QUEENS record with the guy from LED ZEP on bass. And it does fit that description -- it's easily better than anything since "Songs", if not the band's worshiped self-titled debut album in 1998. Fans of Homme's smooth vocalizing and quirky, stoner/pop guitar hooks will be in hog heaven -- unlike some of the lackadaisiacal, dreamy tracks on "Lullabies to Paralyze" or the more abrasive, less memorable stuff on "Era Vulgaris", "Them Crooked Vultures" finds Homme dealing out clever hooks, energetic riffing, and compact, catchy arrangements with plenty of juicy ear-candy frills and desert-blooze tangents.
But don't discount Grohl and Jones, neither of whom are slouches (duh). Grohl hammers away with the shell-splitting power he learned at Bonham's knee in the first place, while the gracefully-aging Jones hammers home big, swaggering bass lines, occasionally stepping out for little flourishes that prove the man's input to the ZEP canon has always been underrated. Put simply, this is three of the best in the business, obviously having a blast jamming with counterparts of their caliber.
It's hard to say who wrote what, but some songs seem to fit more of the typical QUEENS blueprint ("Mind Eraser, No Chaser", "Nobody Loves Me & Neither Do I") while others head off on all kinds of delightful tangents. Hard to believe that the Bowie-circa-1982 "Gunman" lives in the same neighborhood as the sprawling, album-side-worthy "Elephants" (a song that brings more moods to the table in seven minutes than a lot of bands manage in a career) and the quirky, clattering "Reptiles", with its shades of "Carouselambra" wafting in. Lead single "New Fang" is a perky, angular jam (though I keep catching myself singing KISS's "I Love It Loud" during the verses), while "Bandoliers" adds a dose of droll melancholy to the proceedings and "Dead End Friends" veers in with a moody, Eastern-tinged vocal line and one of the fastest tempos on the record.
In other words, for a "supergroup" project with a running time of over an hour, there are damn few moments of self-indulgence and almost no filler to speak of. If you've been a fan of QUEENS at any time in the last decade, or you just want a big dose of some damn rock and roll from three guys who've spent their lives refining and reinventing the stuff, THEM CROOKED VULTURES are what you're looking for. Hyped to the rafters, and for once deservedly so, this could hopefully be the record to teach a new and overstimulated generation that rock and roll isn't just for their parents.