What should be expected of Them Crooked Vultures? Put Josh Homme, Dave Grohl, and John Paul Jones in the same band, and it’s hard not to do some basic rock ’n’ roll algebra. Adding Queens Of The Stone Age’s catchy crunchiness to Nirvana’s relentlessly driving rhythms and Led Zeppelin’s flowing basslines and rich orchestral textures certainly sounds, well, super. But Them Crooked Vultures is not the sum of its members’ most famous bands. Thinking that it could be means overlooking an obvious fact about super-groups: Rock stars don’t form bands with other rock stars in order to top what they’ve already done. They do it because hanging out with famous rock stars is a hell of a lot of fun. Freed from the weight of untenable expectations, Them Crooked Vultures is a hell of a lot of fun, too.
Them Crooked Vultures doesn’t equal the considerable awesomeness of its ancestors; it sounds like a second-tier Queens Of The Stone Age record, not as good as Rated R or Songs For The Deaf, but superior to everything since. (Particularly the exquisite “Scumbag Blues,” which employs Homme’s spine-tingling Jack Bruce falsetto better than any song since “I Never Came.”) Given the fluidity of QOTSA’s lineup—and Grohl’s celebrated tenure in the band for Songs—the album could have fit comfortably under Homme’s usual banner, especially the creeping “Bandoliers” and the chugging stripper anthem “New Fang.” But Them Crooked Vultures really feels most like an extension of the Desert Sessions series, in which Homme invites friends to collaborate on marathon jams that may or may not turn into fully realized songs. The biggest pleasure of Them Crooked Vultures is hearing three supremely gifted players fall together quickly and easily on songs built on simple riffs that sound like they were made up on a lark five minutes earlier.