The supergroup is always a questionable gambit. They almost always look great on paper, but there has to be some inherent chemistry for them to really work together as a band that makes music you’d actually want to listen to. Rock music doesn’t work like a fantasy baseball draft — for every uniformly terrific Jack White side project, there are about a thousand ideas that seem like they were created in a lab that simply don’t translate on record. We now know from experience that throwing Chris Cornell in a room with three quarters of Rage Against the Machine is not nearly as awesome as it sounds. But occasionally, there emerge supergroups that manage to live up to the sum of their parts, that actually make sense.
Them Crooked Vultures is one such group. Even from the initial announcement several months ago, there was no way this project wasn’t going to rule. You cannot fault the credentials of Nirvana drummer/Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme, and bassist John Paul Jones — I forget the name of the band he played in but I guess they were sort of a big deal. Something about lead zeppelins?
As these sorts of collaborations go, you won’t find a more impressive set of résumés anywhere, but that’s not what makes Them Crooked Vultures’ self-titled debut work so well. Grohl and Homme have worked together extensively (most notably on QOTSA’s critically acclaimed Songs for the Deaf), and all throughout the album their already well-honed interplay is kicked up a notch by the presence of a member of the one band most responsible for both of their careers. Homme handles most of the vocals, and the fact that he isn’t a Robert Plant clone is what makes the Physical Graffiti riffing of “Elephants” and “Reptiles” work so well. On “Scumbag Blues,” he recalls Jack Bruce of Cream, arguably the first real rock supergroup.
Them Crooked Vultures is a collaboration of superstars in the best sense possible. None of them need this project to boost their credentials or cement their legacies, and all throughout the album there is an electricity that comes from all three musicians putting the songs above their egos. Don’t get me wrong, all three have plenty of showcase spots for their considerable chops (check Grohl’s propulsive, stop-start rhythms on the opener “Nobody Loves Me & Neither Do I,” Homme’s Jimmy Page impression on “Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” and Jones’ keyboard solos in “Scumbag Blues”), but equally impressive are the tight, locked-in groove workouts “Gunman” and “Bandoliers.”
Sharp, confident, and flawlessly executed, Them Crooked Vultures is the best hard rock album you’ll hear this year, and the rare supergroup that isn’t a self-serving waste of time for anyone involved.