Pop has its own answer to swine flu right now, and it’s the seemingly unstoppable proliferation of supergroups. In rapid succession we’ve seen The Raconteurs, Monsters of Folk, The Last Shadow Puppets, The Dead Weather and the as-yet unnamedThom Yorke/Flea project. And Them Crooked Vultures – Josh Homme, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones – are the biggest of them all.
It’s time for an official UN embargo, backed up by the threat of military force. These self-indulgent manyheaded monsters are now breeding at a faster rate than at any point since theimmediately pre-punk 1970s, and the main enabler and linchpin of this regrettable phenomenon is Homme himself. If he isn’t actually a member of any given supergroup, you can bet he’s connectable to them in one or two easy steps, having lured most of the main culprits to the Rancho de la Luna for one of his Desert Sessions or to, you know, jam, maaan. Take out Homme(andmaybe Jack White), andyou’ve gone a long way to stamping out the problem.
Thetrouble with supergroups is that, nine times out of 10, listening pleasure for the outsider is secondary to the kicks the musos derive from the experience of being in a room together. In this case, Grohl gets to live out a fantasy of being in Led Zeppelin, Homme gets to live out a fantasy of being in Nirvana, the other bloke gets to live outafantasy of being back in Queens of theStone Age (again) and JPJ gets to live out a fantasy of being young and relevant. It’s one big circle jerk, and we’re left to pick up the tissues.
All of that said, there’s inevitably a basic modicum of granite-tough blues-rock quality about Them Crooked Vultures, given the pedigree of the personnel. These veteran professors of riffology know the angles in a song, like a veteran snooker player knows the angles on the table.
And it isn’t all guitar-bass-drums traditionalism. There are one or two standout moments here, such as the Alice in Chains doom-rock of “Spinning in the Daffodils”, which doesn’t outstay its welcome, despite being seven and a half minutes long.
For musicianship, maximum score. For understanding of what makes music great, half marks only.