Brilliant name. Brilliant band. Queens of the Stone Age are the archetypal Californian stoner rock outfit on paper, but of course, there’s more method to their madness than the simple execution of a few crowd-pleasing riffs. Josh Homme, Michael Shuman, Dean Fertita and friends (and foes) have released a double fist’s worth of albums since their formation in 1996 and they’ve combined studio scintillation with a steady road regime that has won them the reputation for being one of the sharpest live acts about. They don’t ignore the details either and we have a large selection of their singles and EPs in the catalogue to prove that, as well as their finest albums.
Justly renowned for their robotic guitar groves and never let up rhythms, the Queens (the aftermath of their mutation from previous parent band Kyuss) are not a hands-off proposition. They have plenty of feel-good factors, some killer melodies and so many memorable songs, often incorporating elements of dance music and electronica that they’ve long shucked off any neo-metal tag – though they do make a helluva noise.
Hatched in the deserts of Palm Springs, California, the origins of Queens of the Stone Age can be traced to their hard and dusty teenage band Kyuss who gained a rep for slaying crowds with their hypnotic buzz rocking anthems. Homme flirted with joining Screaming Trees for a while before creating his ideal project, basing the sound on a fusion of Krautrock, and metal and futuristic country music. The self-titled debut featured Josh, Nick Oliveri and guitarist Dave Catching, with brief membership behind the drums falling to Alfredo Hernandez. While that disc wowed the hordes in California it took Rated R (2000) to break them out of the sandpit. Rated R was a particular hit in the UK where it went Gold and established the band as a festival mosh monster. ‘The outstanding ‘Feel Good Hit of the Summer’, ‘The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret’ and ‘I Think I Lost My Headache’ offer an immediate into this lyrically fearless and sonically crunching bunch. Mark Lanegan (from Screaming Trees) is a guest, but then so is Rob Halford from Judas Priest. Widely touted by alternative and hardcore rock publications as an album to kick-start the new century we have this available in the Rated R Deluxe Edition format – meaning you get a second disc of live Stone Age splendour from Reading 2000, plus non-LP versions of five separate tracks including ‘Ode to Clarissa’ and ‘You’re So Vague’. The whole thing is/was the perfect antidote to ersatz TV manufactured dross and dreadful nu-hair-metal. These guys stand and deliver and their energy levels are frightening. No way could they be tagged as Stoner Rock anymore. Strong stuff.
Songs For The Deaf (complete with a cover depicting a Satanic fork) is the album that turns Gold in America. Loosely based on a mythic car drive from downtown Los Angeles to their happy hunting grounds in Joshua Tree, this set is renowned for featuring Nirvana’s Dave Grohl on drums. Grohl was a fan having seen them support Foo Fighters and enjoyed returning to his back seat for a change. Epic cuts here are ‘No One Knows’, ‘Go with the Flow’ and ‘First It Giveth’ but we also love ‘Six Shooter’, ‘Gonna Leave You’ and ‘Mosquito Song’ where Dean Ween locks his guitar next to Homme’s. If you want to catch some influences, think 13th Floor Elevators and Black Flag. A manic, panic attack of an album that should be in every noisy home.
Lullabies To Paralyze (2005) welcomes new QOTSA cats Troy Van Leeuwen on guitar and drummer Joey Castillo. Recorded in Van Nuys, California the album was kick-started by the hits ‘Little Sister;’ and ‘In My Head’ although the hardcore gravitates towards ‘Long Slow Goodbye’ and the epic ‘You Got a Killer Scene There, Man’ where Homme and backing vocalists Shirley Manson and Brody Dalle conjure up something pretty unpleasant. Oh, another thing: that’s ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons (a Queens hero) playing the guitar on ‘Burn the Witch’, ‘Like a Drug’ and ‘Precious and Grace’, and having a ball by the sound of it.
2007 ushers in another summertime smash with Era Vulgaris, inspired this time by Homme’s daily drives through Hollywood where he imagined he’d become a construction worker getting stoked before dawn. As usual, the guests are diverse and interesting. The Strokes man Julian Casablancas sings on ‘Sick, Sick, and Sick’ and producer/musician/multi-instrumentalist Chris Goss is all over it, bringing his own desert rock expertise from Masters of Reality to the table. The studio/live faves here are many but consider the merits of ‘Make it with Chu’ and ‘3’s and 7’s’, these are right up with the best the Queens have yet offered. All taken, it’s another five-star disc.
Queens of the Stone Age have lasted so well because they’ve become adept at filtering often bizarre strains of the past that you wouldn’t expect to find into their own sound. Nu wave electronica, punk rock, garage blues and deep funk seep through the cracks of what they do and they always offer a total listening experience. Besides the music they’ve always paid attention to marketing and promotion – they love kitsch and they revel in dark humour. In many ways, they’ve sent the music business up rotten but they’ve never taken their fans for granted and they certainly haven’t compromised their art form. Chances are you’re already completely familiar with them, or have more than a passing acquaintance, or maybe you just heard the name and thought – hmmm, that might be interesting. Lucky you, if the latter’s the case. Time to take a trip to the deserts of California. Welcome to the Stone Age.
Words – Max Bell.