Queens of the Stone Age have been responsible for a number of things since their creation. Firstly, it’s totally acceptable to release a single in which the lyrics are composed purely of names of drugs. Secondly, you can be mainstream and still be cool, and thirdly, gingers do have souls.
Words by Adam Reeve – Exploding Head Syndrome
The hard rock band from the desert have been around for nearly twenty years now, and over that time they have created songs in the form of No One Knows, Go With The Flow, Little Sister and I Sat By The Ocean which have gone on to become some of rock’s biggest hits.
Personally they’ve left a pretty significant mark on me. Listening to them was like listening to The Beatles for the first time. Their sound is something that cannot be replicated, but simply celebrated. My obsession for them borders on insanity and it yearns to get the message out that they are really, really good. This is a complete beginner’s guide to my favourite band of all time, and a Hommeage (get it?) to one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
The Introduction – Songs For The Deaf (2002)
While some people choose to start right at the beginning when it comes to diving deep into a band’s discography, it can become a difficult task slogging through all the deep, deep cuts to find the chewy centre. That’s why it’s always best to check out a band’s most commercially successful record first, as it’ll contain the biggest hits and the easiest way to get into a band’s sound.
Songs For The Deaf is the third studio album from Queens of the Stone Age and was definitely the record that propelled them as one of rock’s most exciting, standout bands. Singles such as Go With The Flow and No One Knows allowed casual listeners to get into the grittier style of rock thanks to QOTSA’s ability to sink groove into their chords, with the latter becoming the band’s monumental showpiece.
What made Songs For The Deaf such a fantastic record was the fact that it wasn’t designed with the radio in mind. Opening track You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar… is a ballsy way to kick off the album, with then-bassist Nick Oliveri screaming his heart out on top of a pummelling drum beat and an intense, badass guitar riff, and the number of tracks that hit past the five minute mark certainly doesn’t make it friendly for the radio. But even to this day people still go crazy when the band close out their gigs with A Song For The Dead, and personally God Is On The Radio is a highlight. This was a record that broke through the mainstream ceiling through pure talent, making it one of the most unexpected but greatest breakthrough albums of all time.
The Masterpiece – …Like Clockwork (2013)
Picture this. Your favourite band haven’t released new music since 2007 and over the last year you’ve been hearing reports that the frontman has “died”. What do you do? Freak out and ponder existence for a little while? That’s exactly what I did. Throughout 2012 music magazines all over the country had reported that Josh Homme had undergone routine knee surgery and “died” on the table. He just wasn’t waking up, and everything seemed pretty gloom. Fortunately he finally woke up and felt awful for a few months afterwards (being bedridden for months can do that to you) where he began the slow, painful process of recovery. He developed depression, and constantly thought about saying goodbye to music for good. What actually happened though…was a masterpiece.
…Like Clockwork was the result of a frontman struggling to deal with writer’s block, demotivation and depression, and a band that was brought to the limit many, many times. The sound was a little quieter, there were less riffs and more focus on melodies, the piano became a bigger part of the musical arsenal, and the lyrics detailed so much sadness that it was a wonder what had happened to the former balls to the wall, guitar riffs a-blazin’ gusto of Queens of the Stone Age…
…and it was beautiful. Everything from the intricacies within the closing half of the six minute epic I Appear Missing to the idea of Elton John collaborating with QOTSA was simply beautiful. The band still retained their hard rock status through moments in songs such as If I Had A Tail, Keep Your Eyes Peeled and the obvious behemoth My God Is The Sun but they implemented a lot of depth, emotion and vulnerability into it. The lead single I Sat By The Ocean features my favourite set of lyrics and combined with it’s upbeat, sunny instrumental it becomes another No One Knows-level hit for the band.
This album came out at a particularly tough time for me, and happened to be released on my birthday too. The fact that Josh Homme allowed himself to be seen reaching out for help, for support blew my mind. For him to be bold in saying “I’m in a really bad way, please help” while not even considering how it could affect his and his band’s image really helped me realise that it’s okay to be vulnerable, and that there’s always going to be help available to those who need it. This is another masterpiece alongside Songs For The Deaf for QOTSA, and is definitely one of the greatest albums to come out of this century.
The ‘Save Til Last’ Album – Era Vulgaris (2007)
Unfortunately, not even Queens of the Stone Age can have the perfect discography. Era Vulgaris is the album that comfortably sits at the bottom of many, many fans’ album rating lists, and is definitely one considered as simply “decent” by the music industry. By no means is this a bad album, it’s just one that really fails to get going at a decent pace. It kicks off promisingly enough with the opening trio of Turnin’ On The Screw, lead single Sick Sick Sick and the wonderful I’m Designer, which flips a middle finger to the industry nicely, but it then begins to start and stop with a number of tracks that cannot decide if they want the rest of the album to be fast and intense, or slow and glum. The end result is a tracklisting that ultimately screws up the flow of the record, which makes the listening experience a little bit bizarre.
While songs such as 3’s & 7’s, Misfit Love and Make It Wit Chu are fantastic and proper Queens of the Stone Age efforts, it’s the slower cuts such as Suture Up Your Future and Into The Hollow that dampen the performance sadly. Offering up some emotion is good, but when it comes at the price of completely killing off all momentum and energy it does make things a little bit pooey.
The Beginning – Queens of the Stone Age (1998)
Seventeen years ago saw the beginning of a new era for stoner rock – which is now fondly known as desert rock these days – as Josh Homme left seminal stoner rock band Kyuss to start his own thang. The self-titled debut album boasted a recording lineup consisting purely of Josh Homme and drummer Alfredo Hernandez, and embedded itself deep within hard hitting guitar riffs that still stand tall today. Opening track Regular John is Homme’s attempt at creating music that suited both the men and the ladies, allowing the beginnings of groove to seep inside the distorted noise. The result is a track that is catchy as hell, and directs the start of something beautiful.
Kyuss still lives throughout this record, as the longer cuts in songs such as Walkin’ On The Sidewalks and You Can’t Quit Me Baby tore up the airwaves with heavy, heavy guitar jams whereas the shorter efforts in the form of Mexicola, If Only and How To Handle A Rope focused heavily on delivering riffs that grooved.
Queens of the Stone Age is still an awesome, awesome record and is definitely one everybody should hear at some point. It’s completely different to the sounds of later records, but it’s just interesting to witness the evolution of a band held in such high esteem as Queens of the Stone Age.
The ‘Turning Point’ – Rated R (2000)
Rated R is a record that is continuously held in high praise by critics and fans all over the world as the turning point for Queens of the Stone Age. While it still bore a lot of the lo-fi, stoner rock qualities witnessed on the debut album, the second effort saw the start of accessibility thrown into the mix. Lead single The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret became a superb radio hit for the band as it incorporated hooks with the band’s traditionally heavy sound, and it also begun to branch out into different directions, making stops at various garages to find something new to do with its sound.
One of my favourite Josh Homme quotes is “it’s kinda like feeling around in the dark, you know hopefully you grab boobs, but sometimes you might accidentally grab scissors” and that’s exactly how to describe the direction they took with Rated R. There are some absolute boobs in the form of In The Fade, Better Living Through Chemistry and I Think I Lost My Headache but there are a couple scissors too in the form of Leg Of Lamb and Lightening Song. But this experimentation allowed everyone, everywhere to see the talents of QOTSA at all times as they released this cohesive unit of a record that still remains fantastic to this day.
The Other One – Lullabies To Paralyze (2005)
Finally, there’s this last album. Lullabies To Paralyze was the record tasked with following up after the phenomenon that became Songs For The Deaf, and certainly tried it’s hardest at not becoming a flop. Lullabies is certainly not a flop, and boasts some of QOTSA’s most straight forward material to date, but it came at a time in which then-bassist Nick Oliveri was fired from the band, and then-singer Mark Lanegan left due to exhaustion. A whole load of background noise only brought forth more tension and pressure on top of the already-tough task of standing up defiantly to Songs For The Deaf.
Singles-wise it offered some superb tracks in Little Sister and In My Head, but they were noticeably more “poppy” than previous singles and didn’t contain a lot of the lasting impression that No One Knows and Go With The Flow had. The rest of the album offered some stellar tracks though, Tangled Up In Plaid showed QOTSA at their best, and the wonderful The Blood Is Love is a listening experience you’ll never forget, it’s beautiful.
So there we go, there’s a pretty good guide on how to get into Queens of the Stone Age. What’s great about them is that like Arctic Monkeys or Dinosaur Jr. you could start at any point in their discography and still manage to find yourself having a good time, but this is just a little way of holding your hand through the process. If it all works out and you become a new QOTSA fan then you’re my new favourite person and I love you very much, but for now, happy listening!