The most anticipated rock supergroup ever? The three members of Them Crooked Vultures certainly have the combined experience to blow us away, but their debut album is more of an impressively forceful rumble than a full-on detonation.
Rock supergroups are usually a huge mistake. It's rare that musicians who are used to having a starring role in their respective groups are gallant enough to step aside and share the spotlight; after all, what are rockstars made of, if not 90% ego? Them Crooked Vultures, though - aha. A different prospect altogether, said those used to scoffing at the very notion of 'supergroup'. "It's three of the best rock musicians of all time," said one enthusiast, "how could it be anything short of amazing?"
Well, it could have gone wrong very easily, in fact, but it didn't. The side project of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters and here reprising his original role as drummer) and John-Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin is the biggest hard rock album of 2009, and it's certainly one of the tightest, but is it the best? These 13 songs are basically what you would expect of the trio; Homme's smooth vocals and slinky guitar work, Jones's skilled, powerful basslines and Grohl's powerhouse drumming combine to create songs that are potent, but not completely memorable.
True, there are some dangerously exciting songs on display. 'Reptiles' is a standout, a series of jerky movements, tweaked guitar riffs and woozy vocals that spike unexpectedly, and the excellent 'New Fang' is an exercise in loose, bluesy, ramshackle rock. 'Caligulalove''s marriage of '60s garage and buzzing quasi-metal riffs is inventive and often hypnotic, while closer 'Spinning in Daffodils' uses a classical piano coda to conjure up a sort of graveyard rock epic.
Still, there's a feeling that this is the sort of album that people feel obliged to love because of the obvious calibre of musician involved, rather than because of its content. At over an hour long, it's also a smidgen too long to really rip your ears off. Then again, who's brave enough to edit these three giants of rock?