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Queens of the Stone Age

Queens of the Stone Age

1998

Robot rock.  That's the term John Homme (lead singer/guitarist) of Queens of the Stone Age used to describe the band's unique sound back when they first formed in the late 1990s.  It's a fitting description for much of the sound found on the band's self-titled debut album.  Born out of the ashes of stoner-metal icons Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age sport a different sound, vibe, and style than the former band.  Where Kyuss was full of sludge and meandering down-tempo jams, Queens of the Stone Age is faster, punchier, and generally more experimental in nature.

Take the opening track for example "Regular John".  It's direct, powerful, and pulsating in nature, a song tailor made for speeding through the California desert with the windows down, just you, the music, the highway, and the desert.  It's a beautiful concept, and the song rocks hard without sounding angry or forced in the process.  In fact, it's downright smooth, as is the following track "Avon", which starts out punchy, but quickly settles into it's "too-cool-for-school" stoner-rock groove.  It's an impressive song that almost starts to sedate the listener with it's smooth metallic vibe and unique guitar solos.

The band then changes up the vibe somewhat with the incredibly catchy "If Only" which sports an old-school, 70s rock sound that is almost danceable in nature.  Possibly the best song on the album.  Then the experimental nature of the band kicks in on the next two tracks "Walkin' On The Sidewalks" and "You Would Know".  "Wakin' On The Sidewalks" really drives home the "robot-rock" theme, with it's repetitive, droning riff to close out the song, creating a hypnotic feeling in the process.  It's also an incredibly raunchy, funky song with some downright dirty guitar playing throughout.  "You Would Know" is trippy, druggy, and more experimental in nature, featuring dialing telephones, strange loops, and disco-esq drumbeats.  It's a great song that contributes to the album's strange, otherworldly vibe.

After those 2 somewhat bizzare tracks, the band gets back to the more straight-forward, hard rocking style with "How to Handle a Rope", another fun, infectious song.  "Mexicola" follows, really bringing the low-end, window-shattering heaviness with it.  Again, it's not angry, it's just intense and droning, and Josh's guitar playing is fantastic. 

After a somewhat hokey and spastic instrumental track "Hispanic Impressions" the band dials down the tempo and intensity a notch with the low-key and loungy "You Can't Quit Me Baby".  It's a mellow, druggy song that manages to be unsettling at the same time, slowly building up in intensity and tempo the latter half of the track, creating a bizarre psychedelic effect in the process.  It's a weird song, but it sounds right at home on this album.

The band then throws in one more punchy hard rocker with "Give the Mule What He Wants" which is one of the most infectious hard-rockers on the entire album, before drawing to a close with the incredibly spacey "I Was a Teenage Hand Model", ending the album on a fittingly bizarre note.

Listening to Queens of the Stone Age is like taking an exhilarating and bizarre roadtrip through a surreal desert landscape.  The band sound like a well-oiled machine, or better yet, a fast car, pulsating, pumping, and shreding it's way through a sketchy desert terrain.  It's got it's own unique vibe, a very cool yet surreal vibe.  It's got a unique groove.

Queens of the Stone Age would go on to produce more acclaimed, dymanic albums in the future, but they have never been able to top the raw and hypnotic brand of robot-rock they created on their self-titled debut.

9.1

Rated R

Queens of the Stone Age

2000

If you really loved the stripped-down, somewhat droning/hypnotic style of QOTSA's debut album, Rated R can be a tough album to initially wrap your head around.  1st of all, it's a lot more diverse, it's weirder, it's dense, and generally more subdued in nature.  But upon repeated listens, you really start to appreciate the uniquely warped depth found on this album.  Listening to Rated R is like an intoxicating slow creep...it starts out fun and spunky, then offers up a handful of relatively easy, catchy songs, but as the album progresses, the mood gradually becomes more and more detached and brooding, and by the time the album's over, you feel like you've just woken up from a strange dream or something.  Perhaps I'm speaking too much from experience here, but this album has always had that effect on me (and not neccessarily in a good way).  A lot of people consider this to be QOTSA's best album, and although I prefer their debut, Rated R is a uniquely bizarre album in their catalog, and probably the best realization of their sound overall...my 2nd favorite from the band.

8.8

Songs for the Deaf

Queens of the Stone Age

2002

This album has always sounded a little awkward to me compared to the callously cool and detached albums that proceeded it.  Songs for the Deaf sounds a little bit spastic and is a bit too choppy/unfocused at times...I think there was a slight attempt on the part of QOTSA to respond to the aggro/heavy trends that were popular at the time.  That said, SFTD has a couple of the band's best songs and is probably their most popular album because of it.  And although in reality it's not as good as their prior 2 efforts, it does stand strongly on it's own.  A unique album in their catalog, and for better or worse, the album that broke them into the mainstream.

8.4

Lullabies to Paralyze

Queens of the Stone Age

2005

Nick Oliveri's departure took away some of the eccentricity and spark of QOTSA's prior records, so this one focuses more on mood and melody in the songs.  It's certainly better than most music released in 2005, and while there are a few gems on here, it's probably my least favorite album from the band.  A bit too subdued for my tastes.

8.1

Era Vulgaris

Queens of the Stone Age

2007

This generally a more entertaining and engaging listening experience than Lullabies, which I think makes it better, although this album has more of a tossed-off feel to it, whereas Lullabies sounds more like a unified concept…In any event, I enjoy listening to this album more.  It's got a somewhat more hedonistic vibe to it, a little twisted at times, which keeps it interesting and entertaining.  Not one of their bests, but just another pretty good QOTSA album.

8.2

Like Clockwork

Queens of the Stone Age

2013

QOTSA are probably never going to make an album as good as their 1st two, but listening to Like Clockwork may give you some second thoughts about that.  Although QOTSA have never made a bad album, their last 2 offerings (LTP & ER) left a little something to be desired.  Like Clockwork doesn't really.  It's slightly more than just another solid/pretty good QOTSA album, this one feels different, more accomplished.  Perhaps that's due to more consistently good material from start-to-finish, as well as a more unified/cohesive feel to the entire album.  It's got that typical druggy/trippy vibe to it, but it doesn't meander too much, it sounds more subtle, more smooth, and creates an atmosphere unique to all other QOTSA albums.  There's also a fair share of top-notch rockers to found here, and they all sound fresh, rather than a rehash of some of their best moments from the past.  Overall, this is a borderline great album from QOTSA, and shows the band still has some fresh ideas and room for growth as they continue to blaze down their uniquely strange path.

8.3

Villains

Villains cover artwork.png

Queens of the Stone Age

2017

The nice thing about QOTSA is they are a fairly reliable and eccentric bunch. In fact, those are the 2 main things you can count on with every new QOTSA album:

a) quality
b) weirdness (broadly speaking)

QOTSA may not always knock it out of the park on their albums (safe for their classic debut album and Rated R), but they're also never going to give you anything mediocre or phoned-in. Each album has it's on unique/subtle personality to it, which always keeps things interesting, and such is the case with Villains. This is a noticeably brighter and generally more up-tempo album than the brooding "Like Clockwork", which depending on your tastes, could be seen as a good thing.

Unfortunately for this reviewer, it all adds up to a much more sterile, polished, and overall less compelling listening experience. That's not to say there's not some good songs on here, because there are, but Villains overall personality seems to be channeling the decadence from "Era Vulgaris", but without any of that album's tongue-in-cheek campy menace. Whereas "Era Vulgaris" had a somewhat mocking/derisive tone when it came to vanity and popular culture circa 2007, 10 years later, "Villains" seems to be celebrating and reveling in it. It's got a clean-cut vibe about it, as the production sounds a little extra-thin and less powerful as a result. It's a light-on-it's-feet record for the most part, and they pull off that sound particularly well on the first two opening tracks. "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" is an undeniably fun, dancy, and punchy little opener that sets the tone for the album. "The Way You Used to Do" continues that vibe, but with a less emphatic delivery (anyone else getting a Cherry Poppin Daddies/Squirrel Nut Zippers vibe from this one?). But as the album progresses, the familiar (and dare I say more pedestrian) aspects of latter day QOTSA start to reveal themselves on more Lullabies-meets-Clockwork numbers like "Fortress", "Hideaway", etc.

While none of these songs are bad, they do kind of have a paint-by-the-numbers QOTSA vibe about them...but with an extra coat of polish. "The Evil Has Landed" is the clear highlight from the back-half of the album, a satisfyingly swaying little tune that waits 5+ min before it delivers that classic, hard-driving QOTSA riffage to close out the song. And then "Villain of Circumstance" closes things out on a decidedly uneventful/sedated note.

So overall, it's hard to stay that "Villains" is a particularly progressive or high-ranking addition to QOTSA's extensive and high-quality catalog. But is it a bad album? Not by any means. It's just a slightly different take on their bread-and-butter sound. Working with Mark Ronson was an interesting experiment, and it yielded a few good songs here, but overall, here's hoping QOTSA shift direction on future releases. Perhaps that's the other thing we can always count on with this band:

Keeping things interesting, and keeping us on our toes.

7.9

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