Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mopping Up Culture Vomit: Them Crooked Supergroups

Shouldn't supergroups be more super than they actually are?

I won't lie. I love supergroups. I love supergroups comprising members of bands I don't even particularly like. Velvet Revolver? Even in high school, I wasn't a fan of Guns 'n Roses or Stone Temple Pilots. But I bought that record like a mfka.

What attracts us to supergroups? What makes even a side-project featuring Ted Nugent, a dude from Night Ranger, and that guy from Styx who isn't Dennis DeYoung seem awesome?

I think it's the unfortunate inscrutability of the creative process. A "supergroup" seems like an epic meeting of minds, rather than an overblown jam session. Musicians get big enough, and they pretty much only meet musicians and, if they get bored with their primary band, they'll probably jam with them. Unless it's a solo project, in which case they'll hire studio guys (who are almost always great and always underpaid).

So a supergroup is bound to be little more than a diversion unless, by some pre-ordained planet alignment or some shit, everyone in the supergroup quits their band simultaneously.

But the general populace (even myself, who have been in a number of shitty bands over the years) tends to elevate supergroups automatically. That's probably because the artists comprising the supergroup must be members of fairly popular bands. Otherwise, any band with members over the age of fifteen would be a supergroup. Everybody be in some other shitty band before they be in a good band.

"Hey, it's the bassist from the Break-In! And the drummer from Five-Foot Setback! And the guitarist from The Expert!"

Those are both shitty bands that I, my friend Cooper, and my other friend Nick (respectively) were members of. We were called Nick Lerangis Pets the Blues, and we played one show which we rehearsed for in the car.

We were not super. So it's not just that the band comprises members of other bands. The band members must ostensibly have been in popular bands. And be talented or some shit.

But writing songs is sort of a one-man job. Sometimes, one guy will write the songs and another will suggest improvements. James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich from Metallica (don't make fun) do it, those asshole Gallagher brothers did it up until earlier this year, and everybody knows those Beatles guys did it.

But two creative people will inevitably butt heads. Sometimes they're both equally talented (John 'n Paul), and they won't be able to talk to each other eventually (thus a break-up). Sometimes one guy sucks (Noel Gallagher), and he'll demand more creative control even if he's an idiot (thus a break-up). Or sometimes they'll just settle their differences and keep making shitty music because they love money (Metallica).

Supergroups, accordingly, are doomed from the outset. They're composed of strong creative personalities who have other bands they care about more, and they have stupid names (Damn Yankees, Monsters of Folk, fuckin' Chickenfoot).

The meeting of dudes from defunct bands ("Hey, it's Sammy Hagar and that shitty fusion guitarist!") seems more like a publicity stunt than anything else; a band named Chickenfoot should not announce their debut album like it's the second coming.

So it's sort of wonderful when supergroups don't take themselves so seriously. The Traveling Wilburys (Orbison, Harrison, Dylan, Petty, and producer/ELO nutball Jeff Lynne) were great, and they didn't even print their names in the liner notes.

The early teaser page for my new favorite supergroup (Them Crooked Vultures...still a stupid name...AND FUCKING BIRD-RELATED) was kinda stupid-apocalyptic but also kinda awesome.

Zep. Queens. Foo.

Fuck yeah.

But their music is fairly unpretentious (the Traveling Wilburys might be too unpretentious, but I'll listen to anything involving Roy Orbison). Singer/guitarist/songwriter/all-around badass (an audience-member once heckled then-girlfriend Brody Dalle, and he put out a cigarette on the guy's arm) Josh Homme doesn't fuck around with super-serious lyrics or any of that pussy shit. He writes hypnotically repetitive stoner-rock anthems about fuckin' or nothing in particular (Sometimes I break the finger on the other hand/Said you've got me confused with the better man).

And his collaborators have shown their willingness to step back. Even though Dave Grohl is a decent songwriter (lifetime pass for "Everlong") and John Paul Jones was in LED ZEPPELIN (in an admittedly supporting role), they let Homme do most of the heavy lifting. Dave Grohl even played on Songs for the Deaf, my personal favorite Queens album. And JPJ (no one calls him that) is probably happy just to be rocking out rather than arranging string sections for R.E.M.

Josh Homme could have reasonably called the project Queens of the Stone Age. He's the only constant member of Queens, anyway. He's played with guys from A Perfect Circle (do members of a supergroup playing in another group make the latter group another supergroup?), Screaming Trees, and, again, the Foo's.

But Queens tickets don't sell for $1,500 on eBay (as tickets for the first Vultures show at the Metro did this summer).

I was certainly pissed I didn't go.

Them Crooked Vultures' first self-titled album just leaked on YouTube. Jordan is pissed he has to wait another week so he can listen to it on his iPod.

"Look at how awesome I am! I don't download music illegally."

Bullshit morality.