During the world premiere of Them Crooked Vultures at Metro last August, the primary joy of this latest supergroup came from surrendering to the pummeling rhythms of Dave Grohl--one of the finest drummers of his generation with Nirvana turned one of the most pandering radio schlock meisters of the last decade with the Foo Fighters--as he gleefully channeled John Bonham while assaulting the clock with Bonzo's old bandmate, legendary Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones. You felt every punishing bass drum beat walloping you in the chest as Jones' rumbling four-, six-, eight- and more-string bass lines vibrated your innards, while at the same time you taxed your brain following rhythmic patterns turned inside-out and upside-down with no loss of forward momentum.
This was hard rock that was as visceral as it was intellectual, and it was a jolly good time and a pretty impressive trick--onstage. Unfortunately, it hasn't translated nearly as well now that the much-buzzed all-star trio, which expands to a quartet in concert, has finally released its debut album, and much of the blame must rest on the third leg of this glitzy tripod, Queens of the Stone Age bandleader Josh Homme.
Given the leisure and the dubious benefit of pondering the songwriting and parsing Homme's weak and not in a Robert Plant-like way vocals--not for nothing has this guy often ceded the mike to guest singers with the Queens--all of the flaws of this made-in-a-manager's-boardroom collaboration become all too obvious, and they are the same as most supergroups': Star power and virtuosity don't compensate for lackluster material, no matter how much the musicians are stoked to be jamming with storied peers.
Jones' impressive skills as a master arranger and versatile multi-instrumentalist are underutilized, with only the odd coda (such as the "Sgt. Pepper's"-style outro incongruously tacked onto the end of "Mind Eraser No Chaser"), afterthought dollop of keyboards ("Spinning in Daffodils") or downright bad idea (the lounge music-on-Mars detour of "Interlude with Ludes") hinting at that reservoir of talent. Grohl's undeniable ear for hooks and sweet backing vocals also go untapped, putting most of the burden on Homme to craft the vehicles to carry these Grand Prix drivers, and he delivers tunes that would be filler at best on the finest Queens albums (the single "New Fang" or the stomping "Elephants") as well as material that at worst wouldn't make the cut on a "Desert Sessions" toss-off ("Bandoliers" or "Caligulove," whose lyrics are even worse than that titles might indicate: "I already gotcha baby/Put yourself upon me/I'm in lust, a slave to desire/When you Caligulove me").
Yes, there are pleasures to be had: Muso-geeks would be happy to hear Jones and Grohl play the Britney Spears songbook, just because it was the two of them playing. But for all the promises the musicians showed onstage--or, for that matter, in much of what they've done before--the sum of the whole on record is much less than each of the parts.