Desert rockers Eagles of Death Metal crawled out of the Palm Desert, California haze in 1998 when Jesse Hughes and the prodigious Josh Homme decided to form a conceptual outlet for their musical idiosyncrasies – both the elements in their name and a desire to construct a garage meets southern rock variation on early Canned Heat. Their four studio albums to date, from Peace, Love, Death Metal to the most recent Zipper Down have given them critical kudos and a substantial cult notoriety with everything coming to fruition on the brilliant single “Wannabe in L.A.”. Generally considered to be a band for the connoisseur EODM are an addictive pleasure. If you love Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Ween and, er, Duran Duran (they’ve covered the Le Bon boys “Save a Prayer” on Zipper Down) and also have a penchant for the speaking in tongues grooves of the new wave of Deep South bands then everything below should jerk your chain just nice. Funny, agreeably flash and with crossover appeal to spare (they’ve toured with Arctic Monkeys and Led Zep’s John Paul Jones) the core members, all of whom adopt aliases in the manner of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and Parliament/Funkadelic, are also serious enough to justify your indulgence. This is one band it would be rude to ignore.
The origins of EODM go back to shared school days when Josh Homme befriended Jesse Everett Hughes who had moved to Palm Desert from Greenville, South Carolina and was being bullied at school. Beefy Josh became his protector and after a few years apart the two formed the band in 1998. Hughes and Homme both liked the idea of an outfit that could stray as far from the usual music business rulebook as possible. Hughes began using aliases: J. Devil (or The Devil), Boots Electric, Fabulous Weapon and many others. Jesse played guitar and sang on the Josh side trip known as Desert Sessions, Volumes 3 & 4 for the Man’s Ruin imprint.
The Eagles of Death Metal emerged organically, Homme declaring their style as “almost a weird Hollywood Strip aspect with the way it looks, you know an eighties metal vibe to it, and for us, Eagles of Death Metal, part of what we're trying to do is unite the clans. We need to touch every scene and invite everyone to come and dance. I think that eighties metal vibe is one of the only things we really haven't tapped as far as who in the scene wants to come and dance.”
As for the philosophy he told one reporter “We don't take ourselves seriously, but we take the music seriously. I think, ‘Where's all the fun bands?’...And that's a shame because I think music is a pleasure device, and it should be used as such.”
As luck would have it the debut album Peace, Love, Death Metal was a buzz release in California, partly because the boys hit on such a groovy name for their project and partly because savvy ad execs, console bosses and TV folks in Los Angeles started picking up on the tracks in a race to out hip the opposition.
Kicking off with “I Only Want You” and throwing down a slinky rock gauntlet called “Speaking in Tongues” this sophisticated post-garage rock classic has an air of apocalypse in the margins. Check their segue from “Midnight Creeper” to their cover of Stealer’s Wheel's “Stuck in the Middle”, now recast as “Stuck in the Metal”. That’s what we’re talkin’ about! The UK/European issue added “Miss Sanders” and “Just Nineteen”; the latter being updated for second album Death by Sexy whose cover is a parody of the Stones’ Sticky Fingers.
More EOMD trash talk abounds on “I Want You So Hard (Bad Boy’s News)” and “Don’t Speak (I Came to Make a BANG!)”. Homme’s ever-expanding parade of pals means that guests here include Jack Black, Mark Lanegan (he adds the velvet to “I Like to Move in the Night”), Alain Johannes and Hole’s drummer Samantha Maloney.
EODM’s third release on Downtown Music is Heart On, the album that could be styled as their commercial breakthrough thanks to the simmering-under hit “Wannabe in L.A.” though we reckon that the crawling bluesy “Cheap Thrills” and the guitar heavy “I’m Your Torpedo” would swing it for you and grab your attention anyway.
And so to Zipper Down, their official debut on T-Boy Records and UMG. Released on vinyl first in Europe the single “Complexity” was leaked out via Pitchfork Media in June 2105 and trailed with glorious artwork that shows Hughes and Homme dressed as confused Star Trek (classic era) characters sporting the devil’s hooked horns in place of the usual Starfleet insignia. A superb rock and roll roar, “Complexity” is both a send-up of the excesses of the corporate life style and a fully-fledged metal power pop nugget in its own right.
If that’s a departure then “Skin Tight Boogie” and “Got the Power” are vintage Eagles… The band premiered their version of Duran Duran’s “Save a Prayer” in Cleveland where they turned the New Romantic power ballad into a cross between ZZ Top and Tame Impala. Basically Zipper Down is vintage biker bar fare, hot, sweaty and best enjoyed at maximum volume. On “Skin-Tight Boogie” Hughes girlfriend Tuesday Cross, the adult entertainment star, guests on vocals: that may be her too on the cover, in a state of partial undress. If we know we’re not saying. What is out there is the music, loud, lewd and cocking a snook at hipsters everywhere.
Words: Max Bell
Veteran multitaskers that they are, Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme packed a lot into the seven years between Heart On and Zipper Down. Homme returned to Queens of the Stone Age and started another band, Them Crooked Vultures, with Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones; Hughes became an ordained minister, appeared in a movie with Grace Jones and Iggy Pop, and worked on his solo project, Boots Electric. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that Zipper Down feels more like the work of a side project than any of the duo's albums since Peace Love Death Metal. As always, Homme and Hughes serve up, in the best sense of the word, a caricature of rock & roll: "Complexity"'s mix of dumb and clever -- as well as the hints of T. Rex and the Rolling Stones in its revved-up riffs -- is quintessential EODM, while "The Deuce" proves once again that the duo needs little more than a scrappy groove and heroic doses of cowbell to make a great song. However, at times Zipper Down sounds more tossed-off than effortless. Though "Got the Power," "Skin-Tight Boogie," and "Oh Girl" prove Hughes and Homme's dedication to boogie, they're more than a little repetitive. It's especially noticeable when compared to Heart On, where Eagles of Death Metal proved they could be vulnerable as well as tough and funny; the only glimpse of that side of the band Zipper Down offers is the excellent "I Love You All the Time," where they pull off a nimble balance of lighthearted and brokenhearted. From its title and artwork on down, the album spotlights the duo's jokey side, and again, the results are mixed: the cover of Duran Duran's "Save a Prayer" is as inspired as it is unexpected, with Homme and Hughes giving the song a louche glam-rock beat and replacing the synths with wailing, "Immigrant Song"-style backing vocals. On the other hand, while "Silverlake (K.S.O.F.M.)"'s skewering of a self-important hipster is funny, it also feels dated -- its namesake L.A. neighborhood was barely relevant as a counterculture mecca when the last EODM album was released. Nevertheless, as "The Reverend" closes things with another shot of the band at its finest, it underscores that even an inconsistent Eagles of Death Metal album is still a lot of fun.
Words: Heather Phares
The Eagles of Death Metal may seem like a side project within a side project -- having debuted on the third and fourth volumes of Josh Homme's ever-changing collaboration the Desert Sessions -- but that doesn't mean that the band's first full-length, Peace Love Death Metal, plays like an afterthought. Going by the alias Carlo Von Sexron, Homme supplies simple but effective drumming on longtime friend Jesse Hughes' appealingly tossed-off songs; like the Desert Sessions' releases, one of this album's greatest strengths is its off-the-cuff vibe. As with their earlier songs, on Peace Love Death Metal the band tends more toward the Eagles side of their name than the Death Metal part; the album is rife with classic rock riffs and allusions, from the "Spirit in the Sky" throb of "San Berdoo Sunburn" to the cover of Stealer's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" (affectionately redubbed "Stuck in the Metal") to the overall Rolling Stones-meets-garage rock aesthetic. Hughes isn't quite as commanding a vocalist as Homme is, but he is a versatile one, opting for a breathy, nearly androgynous tone that works especially well on "Stacks o' Money" and a tremulous baritone that recalls Lux Interior on "Speaking in Tongues." Basically, The Eagles of Death Metal sound like one of the more entertaining bar bands that you're ever likely to hear, especially on "I Only Want You," "Bad Dream Mama," and "English Girl." On the other hand, the unusually dark "Already Died" is an atypical highlight, with the ominous but melodic feel of Homme's Desert Sessions or Queens of the Stone Age material. The band's forays into blues on "Flames Go Higher" and "Midnight Creeper" also work well and fit in with the rest of Peace Love Death Metal's spontaneity and sense of humor. Jokey moments like "Kiss the Devil," a bizarrely catchy fusion of punkabilly stomp mixed with gospel-like vocal harmonies, add some refreshing weirdness to the album, but tracks such as the aptly named "Wastin' My Time" fall flat. Like Desert Sessions, Vol. 9-10, Peace Love Death Metal starts out strong and peters out in its last few tracks. That's not particularly surprising, or even all that disappointing, considering that the album was recorded in three days and having fun seems to be its main reason for being. Fortunately, its sense of fun carries over to its listeners instead of remaining a "you had to be there" experience.
Words: Heather Phares
Taking things a little more seriously -- but never too seriously -- the second time around, the Eagles of Death Metal's Death by Sexy keeps the freewheeling, just-for-the-hell-of-it vibe that made Peace Love Death Metal so much fun and improves on it with more focused songwriting. This songwriting, as the title Death by Sexy implies, is obviously focused on a raunchy good time, which the album delivers in spades. Not so obvious, though, is how fine the line between lusty and skanky can be. Most of the time, as on "I Want You So Hard," "I Like to Move in the Night," and "Cherry Cola," the Eagles of Death Metal stay on the sexy side of that line, but they even do the nasty (so to speak) stuff well: On "I Got a Feelin' (Just 19)" and "Shasta Beast," head Eagle Jesse "The Devil" Hughes -- who sports a mustache not seen outside of '70s porn (or, possibly, Terry Richardson's high-sleaze photography) -- sings of barely legal girls who still live with their parents, and gets downright cruel on the glammy stomp of "Poor Doggie." Even though Death by Sexy is more fleshed-out than their debut was, the Eagles of Death Metal's simplest moments are still their best. Along with the previously mentioned "I Want You So Hard" and "Cherry Cola" -- which has backing vocals courtesy of Brody Dalle that give it an extra-sexy edge -- the album's standouts include "Chase the Devil," which marks the return of Hughes' demented Elvis impersonation, and "Solid Gold," a rollicking-yet-hypnotic instrumental that could soundtrack a go-go dancing contest. Fittingly for its on-the-prowl vibe, Death by Sexy spends a minimum of time on brooding tracks like "Eagles Goth" and "Bag O' Miracles." Instead, it focuses on songs that sound good in bad places, and its gloriously, thoroughly trashy fun makes it a guilt-free fling.
Words: Heather Phares
The Eagles of Death Metal take big steps forward with each of their albums, making their scuzz-rock sleeker and catchier without sacrificing its sludgy hedonism: Death by Sexy added seedy glitz and extra sneering to Peace Love Death Metal's gleefully low-rent Rolling Stones worship, and Heart On ups the ante again. Jesse Hughes and Josh Homme boil down their fetishes for boogie rock, disco, glam rock -- and above all, strutting riffs -- into its most combustible essence while also finding far more shades and moods in it than they have before. Kicking off with "Anything 'Cept the Truth"'s massive swagger, Heart On is top-loaded with addictive rockers. "Secret Plans"'' climbing riff and "I want what I want what I want" are pure id, and "Wannabe in L.A." picks up where Death by Sexy's "I Want You So Hard (Boy's Bad News)" left off, delivering effortlessly catchy late-2000s hedonism (at this point, "I'm burnin' gas until I feel all right" sounds way more decadent than sex or drugs). "(I Used to Couldn't Dance) Tight Pants" and "High Voltage" are The Eagles of Death Metal at their most louche and kinetic, soundtracking a long night out with grinding riffs and low-slung basslines.
That string of songs sums up the band's slavish, sometimes exhausting dedication to the rock ethos so well that it's almost a relief when "Now I'm a Fool," Eagles of Death Metal's first honest-to-goodness ballad, ushers in Heart On's darker second half. Whether it's about breaking up with a woman, Los Angeles, or both, "Now I'm a Fool" is one of the album's best songs, its drifting introspection and smooth contours making it stand out all the more among the rest of Heart On's hard edges. From there, the album brings back the rock but remains just confessional enough to reveal a few chinks in the band's armor as they dig into loves, friendships, and nights out gone bad. Hughes wonders "what good's a heart if it's not on your sleeve" on the Stones disco-gone-Devo of the title track, while "Cheap Thrills"' guitar squalls stretch the scope of the song's world-weary emptiness. Even the songs with cartoonish titles don't play out exactly as expected -- "Solo Flights" sings the praises of masturbation, but with lines like "no one gets to love me," it's not all jokes, and while the final track "I'm Your Torpedo" is a proudly obvious mating call, its hypnotic groove is also surprisingly serious. Fans of the goofy rock send-ups Hughes and Homme did on Peace Love Death Metal and Death by Sexy might think the pair are taking themselves too seriously here, but they add just enough maturity to the mix to make Heart On a consistently great album.
Words: Heather Phares