(Sony Music/Interscope, 2009)
by Noel Oxford
“The next project that I’m trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass. That’s the next album. That wouldn’t suck.” – Dave Grohl, 2005.
Here, students, we can see the oft-maligned supergroup trap ensnaring somebody who, to be honest, ought to know better. There’s nothing intrinsic about that line-up that bespeaks quality; in fact on the strength (or lack thereof) of both Grohl’s and Homme’s output in recent years, there’s every reason for scepticism. And who, off the top of their head, has the faintest idea what John Paul Jones has been up to lately?
It is my sad duty – well, my duty, anyway – to have to inform you that Grohl was wrong. It does suck. Quelle surprise. You’re shocked, I know. And actually, so am I.
There’s a lot of decent ingredients thrust manfully into this gumbo; some enormous drum grooves, a few tempo and dynamic shifts, some tempting instrumentation including everyone’s favourite secret standby, the clavinet. But in spite of all these efforts, the record still sounds like the overwrought juicings from the gnarled loins of three ageing rock stars whose best work is now diminutive indeed in the rear view mirror. No matter how hard they try – and try very, very hard they do – Homme, Grohl and Jones can’t seem to break the shrinkwrapped patina of blandness that smothers this entire record – much less turn out a truly attention-grabbing tune.
The reason for that appears to be Homme’s overweening dominance in the album’s sound. His guitar shimmers with faux-fi garage band reverb, and twins his trademark high pitched vocal delivery, serving very well to divert attention from what everyone else is doing. The drums of Grohl – never shy about twatting fuckery out of his tubs – seem to struggle indistinctly in the murk. Aside from the aforementioned clavinet break, I have no idea how to assess Jones’ contribution to the record, as under-mixed as his bass appears to be. It’s all about Homme.
Inevitably, sod’s law must kick in, and indeed, a couple of semi-decent tunes lurk here. Dead End Friendsis a short, sweet driving tune that shifts up and down the cogs with something approaching aplomb, from dead-ahead riffing to a simple close harmony chorus. But it all clashes noisily when the middle eight breaks out into a riff stolen from Rocket from the Crypt, and the lyrics are just appalling. Still it’s done with in just over three minutes, so there’s that going for it.
Gunman brings an unexpected disco-esque art rock flavour to the table, which seems novel and interesting at first, but it turns out to be as undercooked and bloated as pretty much everything else here. Meanwhile, Elephants kicks off sounding a lot like Very Rare by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, which is enough to get me listening, but it can’t muster anything even vaguely interesting from that template, and it sure as heck can’t stretch the idea over its almost seven-minute length.
The rest of the album can just fuck off, frankly. I’m sick and tired of listening to it over and over, wracking my brains for a cogent opinion to get down on paper. It’s bland, it’s boring, it’s far, far too fucking long, and the overall experience could be replicated by submerging one’s head in a bucket of steaming piss and listening to Status Quo albums from said vantage.