There are certain albums by certain bands that are great, but they, for whatever reason, don’t rank in top albums by that band. That’s the case here. “Songs for the Deaf,” the third album by the criminally overlooked seminal desert rock band Queens of the Stone Age, falls under that category. It’s brash, quick tempered, and showcases every different facet of what this band is capable of. It’s also the first record by the band that I gave a fair shake to, and as you may have caught on by its inclusion on this list, is an album that changed my life. The next record in the “Albums of My Life” series, Queens of the Stone Age’s breakout hit, “Songs for the Deaf.”
In 2002, no one expected this band to barge into mainstream rock and roll with a severely heavy rock record, but they did. Even from the opening of the record, you are put right smack into a pretty straightforward concept album. If the album has a concept, it’s driving that is the inspiration. Even to this day it’s an immaculate road record, and leads the listener through various parts of the California desert. I’ve driven while listening to this record probably a hundred times over the last thirteen years, but it never ceases to be a good pick me up, especially for a long country trip.
The swagger presented throughout is nothing if not cocky and unapologetic. From the intense opening of “You Think I Ain't Worth a Dollar but I Feel Like a Millionaire,” you get the mission statement of the record, and the statement is that they need to rock. From there though, we drop right into the massive hit that is “No One Knows.” The drumming here is as exceptional as you’d expect, given the fact that Dave Grohl was the one behind the kit. To say this was a big coup for the band would be an understatement. Even at the time, Grohl’s name alone was noteworthy, and it certainly helped to take the band to the next level. But that’s not to say the band is worthless without him. Joshua Homme is a god of rock music, and his crooner’s voice, insanely talented fingers, and his overall carefree swagger make the band worth watching, while the revolving door policy of the band helps to keep the sounds fresh and ever evolving. Some of the best sections of the album are the interludes and peeks into the different radio stations throughout this real but imagined world. Those usually are just interludes though, and we quickly get back to the music.
So many of the songs are so timeless that it gets difficult to think about them in terms of being songs, but as a package they really do convey an amazingly high level of artistry. Now though, that’s not to say that certain songs don’t stick out.
That brings me to the monstrously heavy track “Songs for the Dead.” From the opening guitar chords, to the rush of the drums, to the all out brawl like breakdown, it murders everything in its path, and makes the metal head in me totally happy. Part time vocalist Mark Lanegan manages to give grimy, rough sounding vocals the song needs to be perfect, and at kicking ass, there's no better song on this album, or in the band's whole canon. There are just some songs that make you headbang without a care in the world, and this is without a doubt at the top of my list.
I try not to discuss every single song on a record, but when the album is this solid it is exceedingly difficult. Take a track like “The Sky is Falling,’” which is a heavy mid tempo track that has some of the most clearly heard and pure vocals the band has ever done. Homme’s vocals and lyrics sort of float above the guitars and well purposed racket under him, and that element really nails down the overall theme of the song. I’ve always imagined this as a music video which would see a man competing in a swimming race, and he’s giving his all, and he wins, but he is so focused on the trophy and end goal that he never realizes he’s racing nobody, and the arena he thought was full of spectators is empty. The race is over before it even begins.
That’s the real, hidden strength of “Songs for the Deaf:” The album is able to gracefully move through track after track and keep you entertained, even though we’re driving closer and closer to our destination. “Hangin’ Tree” is hip shaking rock and roll, and is downplayed by Lanegan’s signature throaty growl, while “Do It Again” has a sort of cheerleader anthem quality to it. Seeing that song live, to say the least, is as fun as you might expect it to. The crowd supplementing the chants heard throughout the song, and the band killing it in precise perfection.
But, the real monster, the big hit of the album, comes to us at track number eight. “Go with the Flow '' is a speedway driver outpacing the officers of the law who seek to ruin his fun. From the immediate drum beats, and Homme’s crooning about how “They’re just photos after all,” really dig into you and put you on a course you can’t exit, even if you wanted to. One of the best things in the song though, is the underexposed subtlety of the piano notes quietly working their magic on the already cool song. The video also ties into the track perfectly, and it’s very cool imagery really helped the band to get even bigger than the success of “No One Knows” did
The last twenty minutes though, I find, are the most off the wall and varied you get during the whole record. “God is in Radio” beams like the sun on a cloudy day, while the musicianship is purposely muddy and thick. This is where I believe Homme and company get the best results. Queens is a romantic band at heart, but also a band that likes to have a good time and deal with it in the morning. They’re also unforgiving in their need to thrive through sometimes intense music, but ultimately, they exist as a band that is largely untouchable in mainstream rock music. Maybe three bands come to mind when I think of music as well orchestrated in the genre as QOTSA are.
One of the best, most classic sounding songs on the record though, comes to us at the tail end. “Another Love Song,” feels straight out of the 50’s, but with a modern day sentiment and rationale. Next up, the title track finds us in dire straits, and the ominous overtones you hear sound like something that at first reminds you more of a Nine Inch Nails track, but by the time the guitar and drums come swooping in, all of that is forgotten. The song is a slow winded, thick journey, and could be cast perfectly to a person running through the desert trying to escape any number of things. Homme’s voice only adds to the sense of dread though, and it’s all that darkness that makes the song the perfect penultimate song for this wide ranging record.
With that power at the end though, all we’re left with as listeners is a purposely slow song called “Mosquito Song.” It’s a beautifully layered track that sees the vocals go in a direction that the band doesn’t often gravitate towards. The sweetness in Homme’s voice, as well as the acoustic guitar, really add weight and a sincerity that only a “ballad” can. But it’s not really a ballad, mostly because it’s not a sweet and tender song, but it is a perfect conclusion to the record, and leaves us wanting more “Lullabies to Paralyze.”
This record came along at a lonesome time for me, but it brought me closer to myself than many other albums of that time frame, and it’s still a damn fine record after all these years. I hope you’ve enjoyed this. Thanks for reading.
A few years ago I shared my list of the top ten Nine Inch Nails songs. Well, as it is bound to happen from time to time, it’s time to revisit the list. Some songs are off the list, others are added, and new entries are worked and squeezed in alongside modern classics. This list is short on obvious hits, so if you’re expecting it to be a countdown of their biggest hits, you’ll end up mistaken. Either way these songs are all just as relevant to a nin fan as some of the other more obvious ones. Today to celebrate the upcoming three night Saenger stand by Reznor and the boys, I give to you the Ten best nin songs. Enjoy!
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5 PRETTY HATE MACHINE, 1989
At the time nothing like this had come out. It mixed cold electronic beats with a certain, catchy aesthetic. The first track on the album, and one of the band's most popular songs even today, “Head Like a Hole,” found an interesting and wanting crowd of underground music fans who were willing enough to give the band a chance.
Much of the album is subdued compared to what would be done later, but you can very much still hear the inspiration and how exacting Reznor was in creating this new sound. Songs like “Terrible Lie,” “Sin” and “Kinda I Want to” have beats unlike anything that were out at this time, and it's based on this foundation that the band would grow and become one of the most influential bands in rock music of the 90's.
The album also gives us a brief glimpse into how well rounded Reznor is as a instrumentalist. The best example of this is the hauntingly dark “Something I Can Never Have.” Having been a piano player from an early age, by this point Reznor was very proficient at the instrument. This is glaringly obvious here. He builds the tension quietly and deliberately at first with soft but ominous undertones, but the sound gradually progresses to a textural palette that is vibrant in ways that most dark music rarely reaches.
4 HESITATION MARKS, 2013
For me, this album is another in a stellar list of awesome albums. While not quite as good as the Fragile, Broken and Year Zero, it’s another big step for Reznor as the center of this influential band. Slow building tracks like “Copy of A,” “All Time Low” and the vastly underrated “Various Methods of Escape,” all showcase the diversity in subtle ways, while still building the ethos of what Nin as a music project can be.
The record is also interesting because while moments are indeed still intense, the album is much more of a slow build that the others on this list. Secondly, the album came out at a time that saw Nine Inch Nails still capable of filling large venues and headlining festivals, while also largely being forgetting or dismissed by the younger crowds. Still, the album is mature and just as relevant to Reznor career as the other projects created.
As I mentioned, when “Hesitation Marks” came out it wasn’t met with a ton of acclaim, but for hardcore fans like myself, it was an eye opening side of Reznor that hadn’t been studied before. The live show was also a different take on the band, which saw Reznor and the band, along with several female backup singers spice up the songs in a unique way.
In short, its an awesome album and I still haven’t found a hardcore NIN fan that thinks it’s a clunker. Lastly, how many times have you heard of members of King Crimson and Fleetwood Mac working on the same album?
3 YEAR ZERO, 2007
Many casual fans probably don’t think about this record too often, but when I heard it everything changed for me. I’d force my then-wife to exclusively listen to this album for months on end. There was something about the concept, the landscape of a world where things had gotten worse and worse, that reached out to my imagination and led me to fall in love with this complex and interesting idea. The quality of the songs aren’t anything to shudder at either. Listening to the record now, you can see how well thought out it all was. You picture yourself trying to figure out a way to get through the desolation while the cold, erratic beats and chants of “Survivalism” are echoing in your brain, and you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.
Nine Inch Nails is a band very well-known for experimentation, and “Year Zero” is no exception. “My Violent Heart,” “Another Version of the Truth,” and “The Great Destroyer” all showcase things not really used in earlier records. The album closes with Reznor screaming “shame on us” for the power we gave to these people. In closing, the album has had a great impact on me, and it’s an album that is full of warnings and breaches of trust among fellow humans, but also one that can serve to remind people that we are all capable of doing equally amazing and also horribly cruel things.
The issue with the album now is that as a world, we’re seeing the effects of what a real life YZ could be. Fear mongering is now in full effect in our country, with some siding with an authoritarian figure hellbent on killing progress and eliminating the common good in favor of absolute terror and subjugation and You have to decide which side you want to be on.
2 DOWNWARD SPIRAL, 1994
To put it mildly, this album was a severe game changer for the band, and for Reznor himself. In a matter of months, and on the back of a legendary performance at Woodstock 94, Nin found themselves filling arena's instead of halls and theaters, and were the ire of concerned parents everywhere. The album itself, which tells the story of a man slowly descending into utter madness, is full of amazingly intricate beats, soundscapes and sheer madness for the duration. Unorthodox beats perfectly build the tension during songs like “Piggy” and “Ruiner,” while also managing to make beautiful and eye opening creations in a track like “A Warm Place.” Technically speaking, there really isn't a bad song on the album. “March of the Pigs'' is still an brute force track, and one of the best to see in a live performance setting. When you hear Reznor scream “March!'' There's this undeniable urge to be a part of a frenzy, and it's one of the best experiences during a concert I can ever recall. Like I said, intense. Even then, with the intensity abundant, stand out songs like the sexual liberation of “Closer.”
The last five songs on the record though all deliver eye opening, yet very starly contrasting themes and arrangements. “A Warm Place,” remains beautiful in it’s presentation, but offers little reprieve in the grand scheme of things, while “Eraser” is a slow burn of evil and desperation that gradually pays off on it’s way to the huge musical bomb that’s set off at the song’s conclusion. It perfectly builds tension in the world of the album, and when the drums, guitars and screaming take full hold, there’s really no good that could come of it. There’s still one classic left though.
Probably the best known track off “TDS” also happens to be the track that concludes the record. To this day “Hurt” remains a poignantly tormented song, with Reznor singing more clearly and vulnerable than he has throughout the record. The chorus also happens to be infectious, and very easy to sing along to embrace the pain this man is feeling. It’s a cathartic song on the record, but it’s also cathartic to the listener who has been put through a myriad of personal torment on their journey through this very good, but very deeply troubled record.
1 THE FRAGILE, 1999
There are quite a few amazing things about “The Fragile,” to be more precise. For one, it's rare that a piece of music containing so much can at the same time be so effective and good, with little to no filler. Certain songs clearly aren't the strongest, but more or less the songs do an excellent job of showcasing various aspects of Reznor's unique sound. You have tracks like “The Wretched” or “Somewhat Damaged” that have the vibe from other records, filled with negativity, great beats, and some of the best usages of imagery on the entire album. As a composer, TR has always been able to make you feel part of the world, and on tracks like the two mentioned, you're instantly pulled into the world.
At over twenty songs, and two hours of music, song after song delivers in ways that the previous song didn't. “The Day the World Went Away” bellows with an ethereal chamber quality, while others like the catchy “Into the Void” make you wonder what's coming next. The album's diversity is pretty astounding, even today. During his career, Reznor had been known to toss in instrumental tracks on releases, and “The Fragile” is no exception. Some of these are among the best songs on the whole record. “Pilgrimage” hits you toward the end of the Left Disc, and the imagery painted makes you instantly think of a Nazi march. The best though, comes in the way of “Just Like You Imagined.” To put it bluntly, it's a killer intense song, and it's probably the best instrumental track ever made under the nin moniker.
However dark the album is, there is a glimmer of hope that still resonates with myself everytime I hear it. It also happened to be one of my favorite all time songs. That track, “We’re in This Together,” isn’t a mellow song, but it accomplishes its tasks. I’ve probably heard this song two thousand or so times, and it still makes me smile and giddy like a child. It overshadows all of the other songs on the album, yet still it’s one of the least played songs in the NIN live catalogue. Years ago I remember an interview where TR said it was the best song he ever wrote, and he knew he couldn’t do it justice in concert, so he let it be. Maybe one of these days I can stop spending endless amounts of money seeing them live. But first, I must have my WITT live. Thanks for reading.
When starting to understand and appreciate the Canadian rock gods known as Rush, it can be daunting. Yes, what I had heard previously was great, but for me, whose currently about 15 albums behind on what they created, it’s not as easy. Today we’re gonna be taking a little trip down into progressive rock territory with a little piece I thought should be called “Learning to Love Rush.”
For many rock fans, the voice of Geddy Lee is a breath of fresh air, while others go hard for the dynamic drumming of the best rock drummer to ever exist, one Neil Peart. Or maybe it’s the soaring melody of guitarist Alex Lifeson, who I assume has his own set of devotees. My point is, there are very, very few bands that match the artistry and instrumental skill that the members of Rush possess. On this journey, and for the sake of time and space, we’ll be exploring the more critically acclaimed albums, or rather the ones that made me wake up and go, “Holy Shit Rush is great.”
When I was young and uninformed, hearing the name Rush meant very little to me. I wrongly associated them with the other “classic rock” of the time, which means shit like Styx, Eagles and whatever nonsense from that era you can think of. It wasn’t until I heard the self-titled debut from 1974 that I realized the original rock gods started as a very free wielding, soaring type of classic rock that even fans of heavier music could get behind. Take a song like “Before & After,” which starts off gently enough before the bluster and energy ramps up is a perfect example of the type of musical capabilities the trip exhibited from an early point in their career. That means, this thing called RUSH was just getting started.
For my money and insight, by 1976 the band was on the cusp of a major, major breakthrough of acclaim, led by the first of five ridiculously solid albums, titled “2112,” began to showcase the true progressive rock the band was attempting to perfect. From the first track of 2112, the very long “2112:Overture,” which has a longer title I’m not going to include, shines with intensity as q voice shreds the front end while Peart decimates the background mix.
What stands out to me about this record, and the next few especially, is the exacting nature of the music. Rush as a trio is capable of some of the most interesting yet precise music of all time, yet the band never seems to get lost in the complicated nature of prog rock that so many others do. Pushing it even further, the band can rock and pummel at one moment and then go back and make a progressive sounding pop song in the way of “A Passage to Bangkok.” All of this is to say that by the time 1977’s “A Farewell to Kings” came out, the band was both highly acclaimed and unrelentingly popular, thanks to the hard work and execution of the trio.
From there, it’s hit after hit, and while I’m running out of space and time, think of the catalog of songs. “Closer to the Heart” is mesmerizing in its poignant haziness, while cuts from other records, like the classic stadium rock of “The Spirit of Radio” from 1980’s “Permanent Waves,” are still recognized for their brilliance by ever engaged music fans far and wide. There’s simply not a bad song among the bunch, which brings us to the landmark album known as “Moving Pictures.”
The record as a whole is marvelous, but a cornerstone of a great album is, you guessed it, great songs. The reason for that little game of a sentence is to demonstrate that while the band had been naturally maturing over the course of their career, there hadn’t been any album that had jerked me awake like the 40 minutes of triumph presented in “Moving Pictures.”
From the start of “MP,” you feel (or at least I did when exposed to the record) moved not only by the dynamic opening of the seminal classic “Tom Sawyer,” with its futuristic guitar and synth work, but other classics like the monolithic vibe of “YYZ” and maybe my favorite Rush song ever, “Limelight.”
The song speaks to me, one because its a brilliant fucking song, but also how personal and forward it is. While the music was composed by Peart and Lifeson jointly, the lyrics spoke directly to how Peart, and by extension of being the lead vocalist, Lee felt about the band's recognition in the world at large. Peart, who actually wrote the lyrics, had become increasingly aware that he couldn’t just be a normal dude anymore as the band's popularity took off. It sucks to feel that way for sure, but good god damn is “Limelight” a masterpiece.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this somewhat researched but more heartfelt article. In conclusion, Rush made me feel like I hadn’t in many years, and for that, I salute them. RIP to Neil Peart, may you be drumming for the cosmos.
Landon Murray is a music connooisseur who craves sounds of all shapes and textures. He's seen over 2000 bands and looks forward to welcoming you into his world of sound,
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