For a long time, stoner rock, or just the concept of stoner rock was dismissed by more mainstream types looking for their next quick fix. During this period though, and with the help of multiple friends and amazing musicians, Joshua Homme and his Queens of the Stone Age managed to not only propel quote unquote “Stoner Rock” to the next level,but become one of the finest rock bands currently active. Queens isn't full blown stoner though, and with each subsequent record they’ve becoming not only more sonically heavy, but also have managed to bring Desert, Palm Springs inspired rock to a level that most of the bands California natives haven’t managed to.
It all started with the eruption of the seminal desert rock band Kyuss. After the dissolution, Homme and fellow band member Nick Oliveri embarked on a new view of the world. The first album, which is self titled, dove into a little of what made Kyuss so special, but there was something else there. For one, people who loved Kyuss and who had never seen Homme as anything more than a drummer quickly realized that not only was Joshua a really good guitar player, but boy, did he have a voice. Not a traditional voice for the style of music, but I venture to guess that that's part of why the band stood out. Homme’s silky, elegant yet smoky voiced throat was able to give a new light to the genre, and with Oliveri on bass they were able to conceptualize a style that no one has been able to recreate.
One of the best things about the first album are the deep, embedded hooks throughout key tracks. “Avon” kicks like shotgun in a violent encounter, while “Mexicola” and “Give the Mule what he wants” both possess a funky opening that manages to get the job done with little urgency until the guitars come full strength and dominate the song. Hommes voice is also key here.
Even at this early stage the band was getting recognition, but it wouldn't be until a few key things happened off their second album that would truly set them on the road being a very well-known band. First, the video for “ the Lost Art of Keeping a Secret,” started getting minimal airplay on music video channels (Those still existed way back when) and the band was asked to join that summer's Ozzfest tour. While the video was great and got the record into important hands of initiated fans, the Ozzfest thing never really seemed like a good fit. Pushed in alongside bands like Pantera, Deftones and Soulfly, it just clearly didn't mesh as well as it should have. Then, something really big happened..
With the release of their third album,”Songs for the Deaf,” everything started going right for them, at least commercially. For one, their live performances became the stuff of legends, especially with bassist Nick Oliveri giving his all, mentally and physically to unsuspecting crowds. This included, but wasn't limited to getting wasted and throwing bottles into the audience, and also just generally playing his ass off.
The record also included the first contributions from Dave Grohl. To say that his drumming helped the record along is an understatement. It took the bands craft and their notoriety to another level. It also didn’t hurt that the singles ended up being giant successes. “No one Knows” and the arguably better “Go with the Flow” became mainstays on rock radio, and it catapulted the album to big sales. They had officially arrived, and were finding bigger and bigger crowds every day who wanted to spread the love of QOTSA. So much of the positivity and success from that album comes from the material which was released. All of the songs are brilliant, and capture immediately the vibe of the best road record ever released. Even the non singles are killer tracks with explicit hooks that captivate you. “First it Giveth” hits the ground running, while the title track of the record is among the band's heaviest tracks ever. For me this album is a stark reminder of just how gnarly, but also nuanced the band can be. Sure, they’re in your face, but that’s not all they are. Future albums capture this vibe better than “Songs,” but over the course of this excellent, groundbreaking album, in my eyes at least, Queens of the Stone Age took one step closer to being the best rock and roll band of our day and age, which is a title i still believe they possess. With Dave Grohl, Mark Lanegan, Jesse Hughes and various other contributing to the album, there’s almost no way it wouldn’t help the band.
Between the next albums though, much changed. Grohl was out, as was Oliveri, and although he never rejoined the band, Homme and he still remain friends. But anyway, next comes “Lullabies to Paralyze,” whose title is actually taken from the closing song of the previous album.
Paralyze is not only an appropriate album to follow up the smash of “Deaf,” but it’s also more balanced, less in your face, and gives the band new life. Joined by Alain Johannes, Joey Castillo, and even that ZZ Top guy Billy Gibbons, “Paralyze “ has guttural songs, but also some spooky tracks laid out that build and grow in ways previous tracks haven’t.
“Burn the Witch,” is an all time favorite, with its synced up drumming, ho hum vocal melody, and of course Homme’s signature croon laid deep in the mix. Many of the tracks here are also longer and more meandering at times than previous efforts. This album wasn’t the giant success that the previous album was, but it’s arguably better as a whole, while it certainly has moments that are better than any of their other records. One of my favorite things about the album as a whole though, is the slow, somber closing provided from the “Hidden Finale,” that comes after “Long Slow Goodbye.” It’s always reminded me of a funeral procession, as showcased in a black and white movie of the thirties. Even beyond that terrifying slow burn of the track, “traditional”rock anthems like lead single “Little Sister” also delivers scorching musical moments. I mean, seriously, the first time I heard “Sister” i was absolutely captivated at the proficiency in which Homme plays guitar.
This tour also highlights one of the single best concerts I’ve ever been to. Two of my favorite all time bands, Queens and Nine Inch Nails were going on tour together. Holy-fucking-shit. To say that that show was amazing is nearly pointless. Joined by fellow amazing artists’ Death From Above 1979, the tour was one for the ages, and was also the first in a long collaboration between Queens and Reznor(we’ll get to that later though).Following a long tour full of seminal quotes and wonderful moments, the band took some time off to do other things, to varying degrees of success. The time wasn’t super long though, and by 2007 the band was back with a new record.
Now, among hardcore fans, “Era Vulgaris” is among the weaker of the albums released by the group, but in no way is that me saying it’s a shit record. It’s actually really good compared to other things that came out that year. It’s just not life changing for me in the way other records released by Queens had been. There’s still plenty to love about it though. “Turning on the Screw,” which opens the album is a perfect example of a band not being afraid to do what they want. The song isn’t in your face in the ways other opening tracks are, but the difference intone is obvious very early in the listening process of “Era.” Reznor appears again on the title track, while the hidden b side of “The Fun Machine Took a Shit and Died” remains one of the best tracks never officially included on a record.Other songs rock too though. “Misfit Love” is a wild ride, while “3’s & 7’s” is a song full of bravado and build up until implosion, but what’s significant here is the usage of a song from what could loosely be called a side project.
For years, Homme and whoever else he can find had been releasing what they called “Desert Sessions,” which basically means whoever was available went down to the Joshua Tree studio Rancho de Luna and recorded weird, atypical music for the fun of it. Tons of people came through those sessions, including one Polly Jean Harvey, but anyway, a song from that showed up on a Queens record, and everyone loved it. The song “Make it Wit Chu” is a slow love filled romp in the hey, and finds the band scaling back the urgency for a pretty sweet overall song.
Over the next few years though, little happened with the band, unless you count a quick tour presenting the first album being played in its entirety. Apparently by the end of the tour the band was over it, and yeah, seems totally understandable. Anyway, a long time passed, which for a band riding high can be a deal breaker. It wasn’t without merit though. Homme, during a knee surgery, was technically dead for several minutes, and the long road back was marred by depression, injury and a lack of focus. It wasn’t until 6 years after the previous record that the next QOTSA record would be released. And thankfully, it didn't suck.
Not only didn’t it suck, but it was one of the best returns to music I’ve ever seen. In my years there’s no better album by the band than 2013’s “...Like Clockwork.” It's a masterpiece, and in many ways, would serve as a fitting parting gift, if the band decided to hang it up. Over the course of forty-six minutes, Homme not only manages to bring people into the world he’s been living in for a while, but he opens himself up to some of the more honest songwriting and pain acknowledgement he ever showed us.
Songs like the haunting ballad “The Vampyre of Time and Memory” is still and frightening in a Polanski film short of way, while the song “My God is the Sun” is a mesmerizing example of brute force in the California desert. There’s not a bad song on the album, and that’s ultimately where strength comes from. Also great about the record is Homme’s ability to squeeze more guests into meaningful roles than most Rap stars can ever get to be on their records. Over the course of the ten songs we get guests spots from returning champions such as Grohl and Reznor, oliveri, Lanegan, and Alex Turner, but it doesn’t end there. New drummer Jon Theodore tears it up in much the same way he did with the Mars Volta, but we also get the epically awesome Elton John, who chimes in on piano and vocals on the record's best track “Fairweather Friends,” which is insane. The track also features the full band and Grohl and Reznor. It’s an epic song that everyone should already know, if you’re indeed a fan of the band.
“...Like Clockwork,” which also was my album of year in 2013, is a strong reminder that not everything that goes away does so and then loses strength, but rather that a true return to form is possible, especially when you have a great group of people who are all focused on the same goal. I look forward to the day where the world is graced with another album by the best living rock band in the world, Queens of the Stone Age, or at least a new Them Crooked Vultures record. Any of those will do! Thanks for reading, sorry this took so damn long!
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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