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Supergroup or Superdud?

I've learned to curb my expectations for highly-anticipated albums.  And this, for me, was a highly-anticipated album.  I've been burned more often than satisfied recently, including the recent Alice In Chains release 'Black Gives Way To Blue' (an album that I don't dislike, but certainly didn't rise up to be the second-coming of AIC that I was hoping for), and the terminally soulless and long overdue Guns 'N Roses limp dick 'Chinese Democracy' (I know, it's over a year old at this point, but high expectations die hard when they'd been brewing for 17 years).  So it was with balanced eagerness that I picked up the first album from Them Crooked Vultures featuring the supergroup potential of Josh Homme (lead vocals and guitar) from Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss fame, Dave Grohl (drums and vocals) from Foo Fighters and Nirvana (d'uh), and John Paul Jones (bass, keyboards, vocals) from some band whose name eludes me at the moment....oh wait, Led....something.  Gimme a second, it'll come to me.  Hell, even Liam Lynch (you know, the guy who gave us "My United States of Whatever" and the MTV sock puppet show 'Sifl & Olly') did the artwork and album design (this is why I still prefer physical cds to iTunes and lyrics). 

Looking at the lineup, I knew it was going to be impossible to temper my expectations completely.  I mean, c'mon - the last time that Dave Grohl's main role was stationed from behind the drumkit was for the fantastic Queens of the Stone Age album 'Songs for the Deaf', and while some of the newer QOTSA releases haven't matched the impact of that album, Josh Homme is still a great guitarist and an original and distinctive songwriter.  The question mark for me going into it was, what kind of influence and contribution will the great John Paul Jones bring to the lineup?  Besides some minor collaborations and the 2007 one-off reunion of Led Zeppelin, I'm not aware of any recently significant projects that he's been involved with.  And so it was with crossed-fingers and tethered hopes that I loaded my iPod and strapped on headphones to see for myself if this was to be a rebirth of my faith in expectations, or yet another miscarriage of potential.


I'll admit that at first listen this album sounded mostly like yet another quality Queens of the Stone Age album, which in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing.  But not the collective weight of the supergroup collaboration that I expected.  Ah...there's that word.  Expectation.  And, as an aside, the term 'supergroup' is an unfair level of expectation.  It basically sets the anticipation for said group to meet or, unfairly, exceed the high levels of their 'best of' body of work that has positioned them and their roles as "super".  And so in that first listen, I wanted to hear the epic scale of grand orchestrations that made John Paul Jones' contributions to such Zeppelin classics as 'Your Time Is Gonna Come', 'Kashmir', 'The Rain Song', 'No Quarter' and 'All My Love' such haunting, mysterious, and enduring capsules of perfection.  I wanted to hear Dave Grohl's unleashed ferocity behind the drums, with some trademark Foo Fighter hooks as well.  But initially, I heard a Josh Homme-led attack of interesting riffs and alternating time-signatures characteristic of the style he perfected with Queens of the Stone Age.  However in that first and subsequent few listens, I absolutely heard the contributions of the other two tines of this 3-prong attack...primarily those of Mr. Jones.  To be fair, Jones was one of the original kings of time-signature manipulation.  So to recognize that as a Josh Homme calling-card is an ignorant oversight on my part.  But it took a handful of plays of this album from beginning to end to really separate and appreciate the very even contributions of the three members.  I think it's because of my admittedly high-expectations for this album that I took a lot of time to digest this really polished and original collection of songs.

Opening with a Bonham-esque downbeat and collection of grooving counter-point percussion elements, the first track 'No One Loves Me & Neither Do I' offers an unapologetic narrative into the detachment of a one-night-stand. Coupled with the vocal distortions and soaring guitar riffs of 'Elephants', and the exotic and driving 'Reptiles', these tracks all employ a middle-eastern influence that together sound like tracks left off of Physical Graffiti because they were too ahead of their time.  Their time has come.

Foo Fighter fans will revel in the anthemic hooks and catchiness of 'Mind Eraser, No Chaser'.  Clearly the child of Dave Grohl that benefits from the disjointed riffs and dirty detachments of Josh Homme's vocals and guitar, with Grohl lending a clean and distinct voice to the driving chorus.  While QOTSA fans looking for the extended version of 'Go With The Flow' will find it in the relentless 'Dead End Friends'.

The track 'Scumbag Blues' sounds like the song that Cream never recorded, but wishes they did.  From the Jack Bruce-inspired falcetto to the thick blues riffs reminiscent of 'Crossroads', with a touch of late Zeppelin-era keyboards straight off of 'Trampled Under Foot', this track almost seems out of place on this record because it feels like a throwback to another era.  Which should not be taken as a criticism.  This track, while steeped in the repetition of a good blues riff, grows into more than that thanks to an extended breakdown that Josh Homme provides to close the track.

My favorite track on the record is 'Bandoliers'.  A stoic declaration to a faded love affair, to 'prepare then take aim & fire'.  There's an underlying reflection of sadness to the delivery of this track, with eruptions of emotion as the frustrations of a relationship's evolution, deception, and destruction become too much to take.  This is one of the more mellow tracks on the record that is emotionally effective in its calm resonance of a lost cause.

I've heard that the track 'New Fang' is the first single from the album.  Not that I would know from hearing it played on the radio.  I live in the NY-metro area where radio stations primarily play classic rock, AOR, smooth jazz, or mindless pop (which to me is reminiscent of an Ecstacy-fueled dry hump session, and just as satisfying).  Why the number one market in the world wouldn't have a wide-scope of music options has never made sense to me.  But I digress.  That they chose this as their first single makes perfect sense.  It's accessible, catchy, and it showcases each of the members' talents extremely well.

The second half of the album comes close to equaling the strength of the first with standout tracks like the electric-xylophone charged 'Caligulove', the ghostly ethereal 'Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up', and the swinging 'Gunman'. 

The only track on this record that leaves me unimpressed and wondering why it made the final cut is the boring and repetitive 'Interlude With Ludes'.  It sounds like Robert Johnson and Beck started writing this song then lost all interest.

'Spinning In Daffodils' serves as a perfect closing track.  Like a demented and melancholic captor releasing his victims and bidding them goodbye, there's a haunting uneasiness to this track that is the perfect adieu from a world painted in colors of the past, the present, and far away lands that may or may not exist.

This is a fantastic album from a band that I hope is not just spending their summer vacation together.  I would be thrilled to hear that Dave Grohl is disbanding the Foos, Josh Homme is departing the 'stone age', and that John Paul Jones announces once and for all that anything that a reformed Led Zeppelin would produce could only serve to be as disappointing as the Star Wars prequels.  This is a band that should be making music together.  Their other endeavors should be side projects at his point.  This is where their focus should be.  They are a group with many talents and super potential.  They are a super group.

3 1/2 STARS

(As an aside, I jumped onto the Them Crooked Vultures wagon a bit late and just learned of their show at Roseland next week - 2/8.  If anyone has tickets, I WANT ONE.  Please Gimme.....please)



Saw this on Wednesday afternoon (taking a break from sending out resumes and plotting my professional future). Boy was the plot timely.  Basically, George Clooney is a professional shit-canner (i.e. Spineless employers hire him to fire their often loyal and dedicated workers and present them with their severance packages).  The footage of the people being fired is often heart-wrenching when you can see the real shock and bleak outlook this news presents them with.  The footage is staged, but the reality of their reactions is effective none-the-less.  So he's a "Termination Facilitator".  His job is booming when the rest of the country, including yours truly, is reeling with economic hardships and rampant downsizings.  He spends 320 days on the road, and wears his frequent flyer miles like a badge of honor...with captain wings.  His home is always away from home - which is just how he likes it. 

Without giving the whole plot away, Clooney's character ends up going out on the road with an ambitious new employee (Anna Kendrick) to show her the ropes.  Her character is recently out of school and oozing with the confidence and change-the-world naivety of someone who graduated at the top of her class but has very little experience outside of the classroom.

The movie felt very real.  Depressing in its honesty about the ease in which many of us remove ourselves from life and relationships (maybe not to the extremes of Clooney's character) in favor of isolated freedoms.  And really puts a magnifying glass up to the hypocrisy of Corporate America's demand for loyalty, especially in times like these when that is the last thing Corporate America is willing to offer their lemmings.

The acting was excellent, particularly Clooney and Anna Kendrick, as was the writing.  I wouldn't call this a comedy, nor is it a, it's not a dramedy either.  It's just an entertaining and often scathing view of the state of corporate politics, human relationships (or lack thereof), and the consequences of being ignorant to, or not owning up to, the weight of your actions.

3 1/2 STARS


SHOGUN - James Clavell
Beheadings, samurai, seppuku (i.e ritual suicide), "pillowing" with consorts...just another day in feudal Japan

Set in 1600, this is the story of English sea captain John Blackthorne (aka Anjin-san), who lands/crashes his Dutch warship Erasmus with what's left of his crew on the island of Japan. First seen as a barbarian and jailed for piracy, Blackthorne is quick to communicate with his captors (via the existing Portuguese missionaries present on the island) and in time proves to the powerful daimyo Toranaga how he can be of use in the daimyo's potential, if not impending, rise to the ultimate seat of power in Japan: Shogun.

At a daunting 1150 pages, the novel thankfully grabs you early on in its presentation of the shocking differences, unexpected violence, and surprising balance of life in feudal Japan. What follows is a wonderful story and a complete and epic vision of such diverse cultures and their approach to, and view of, life and death.

Clavell has a tendency to be overly descriptive and include too many seemingly mundane observances, making for a longer read than is probably necessary.  However, by the end of the book you have been completely transported to another world and immersed is such a fully realized collection of characters, places, struggles, and beliefs that I'm not sure the clarity and immersion could have the same effect without that scope of description.

I have the 1980's miniseries DVD collection ready to go on Netflix....they had me at 'Richard Chamberlain'

The Rising Tide: A Novel of WWII, by Jeff Shaara
Last Words: A Memoir, by George Carlin

    Hey Bill: