Album Review: Eagles Of Death Metal, ‘Zipper Down’
Without a sturdy musical foundation to back it up, schtick can only take you so far – and that goes for both the artist and the audience. Even outrageous acts like GWAR (believe it or not) put effort into their actual songs. Otherwise, you might as well just go to the circus or a magic show. Eagles of Death Metal, of course, like to have a little fun with their swaggering brand of boogie rock. Built around the lifelong friendship between frontman Jesse Hughes and Queens of the Stone Age bandleader Josh Homme, Eagles Of Death Metal still get a lot of mileage out of sophomoric humor, licentious wordplay and – last but most certainly not least – Hughes' larger-than-life personality.
On their fourth album together (their first in seven years after putting out an album every two years), Hughes and Homme followed the same operating procedure as they've done in the past, with Homme on drums, arrangements and production while Hughes wrote all the songs and covered all the vocals and guitars. This time, they opted for a more insular approach, taking care of all the music themselves without the revolving cast of guest musicians they've employed in the past. And right from album opener "Complexity," which consciously nods to the groove and feel of Grand Funk Railroad's classic, "We're an American Band," the pair's usual fixations come roaring out of your speakers, i.e: rock 'n' roll, '70s rock 'n' roll, rock 'n' roll as a lifestyle and rock 'n' roll as all-important credo.
Hughes, a party animal who was ordained as a minister in 2012, sings about rock 'n' roll – and the extracurriculars that come with it – with a fervor that borders on religious. The fixation with sex, drugs and attitude would get grating and obnoxious if Hughes weren't so charming and self-effacing at the core of all his bluster. So Zipper Down ends up coming off as more goofy than debauched, falling more in line with Beck's Midnight Vultures-era playfulness than the genuine sleaze of the bands thatEagles Of Death Metal are emulating. Meanwhile, Homme is simply too developed of a musical mind to settle for regurgitating classic rock cliches. Sure, he and Hughes like to pretend they're just raiding the creative graves of their '70s idols, but the horns and backing vocals on "Complexity" -- ironically, an ode to keeping one's music simple -- betray a sophistication that keeps Zipper Down from having to rely solely on humor.
In an interview posted the day of Zipper Down's release, Hughes said, "With rock 'n' roll, there's a consequence; there's a penalty." To which Homme responded: "Art doesn't get even remotely worth it until it's vulnerable enough to show you something."
Maybe so, but they weren't actually talking about this album. Instead, they were responding to the new soul-baring documentary on Hughes, titled Redemption of the Devil. In one scene, Hughes is moved to tears while giving the audience a glimpse behind the curtain of his personal life woes. Of course, he doesn't come within a hundred feet of showing that same weepy, confessional side on Zipper Down, an album crafted as pure, unadulterated – if slyly clever – fun.