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Them Crooked Vultures: a supergroup worthy of the title

Them Crooked Vultures

  • Them Crooked Vultures
  • DGC/Interscope/Universal

The band name looks like the product of a random word-generator, but you probably need to come up with something a little off the wall when several million rock fans are fixated on your first baby steps as a group (the Traveling Wilburys was another case in point). The debut album from drummer Dave Grohl (of Nirvana and Foo Fighters), singer-guitarist Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and bassist-keyboardist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) abounds in sudden detours and aural illusions, as if the trio were determined to shake off anyone expecting to hear a tidy amalgam of each musician's past.

Of course we knew it would be a heavy record, and it is, in every way. The 13 songs are virtually all about being a rag-doll of passion, a glutton for dangerous substances or a hopeless animal for whom oblivion may be the best available option.

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Ironically (or not), the music for these bleak anthems is confident, disciplined and full of invention. None of these songs travel in a straight line. Most are multipart compositions that save some of their best moves till the point at which you think you've heard everything. Several flicker out with a coda brightly at odds with all that's gone before, such as the brass-band waltz at the end of Mind Eraser, No Chaser or the seedy space-café groove that finishes Caligulove .

The album is full of hard-knuckle rhythms and off-kilter grooves, and relatively light on big solos (a good sign for this band's future). Elephants starts with what seems like an open dispute about the right tempo, as the initial guitar riff is repeatedly run over by a faster version in octave guitar and bass. Bandoliers has more displaced rhythmic accents than a Tchaikovsky waltz. But these guys can go the other way too: Just when No One Loves Me & Neither Do I seems likely to end, they launch a simpler, even more powerful variant of the riff that's been driving the song.

The smeary, bleary Interlude With Ludes rides a relatively slack groove, as you might expect from the title. "I know together we'll make the possible totally impossible," Homme sings, in a number that sounds like a Kinks tune that has spent the night under a bridge. Other echoes of other bands show up through these tracks, but in the end this is a strong disc by a group with its own identity.

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