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 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 bands 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 is exceedingly difficult. Take a track like “The Sky is Fallin,’” 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 began.
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 perfect.
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 under exposed 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 straights, 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. See you Friday.
Landon Murray is a published writer and an avid lover of music, books and films. He's also a lover of the New Orleans Saints. He was born in 1982 and has a chainsaw tattoo on his arm.
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