Queens of the Stone Age (w/ bonus Desert Sessions EP!)
A GUEST POSTING by HYBRID SOC PROF,
our Correspondent from the Wilds of mid-Michigan
There are folks who call Josh Homme “Ginger Elvis”… I didn’t know that when, about two years ago, I caught a re-run of Queens of the Stone Age’s 2013 performance at Austin City Limits and thought: “he’s simply got to be the sexiest man in rock ‘n’ roll!” Is it the more subtle version of Elvis’ hips? the underlying pain, restlessness and experience behind those blue eyes? the wry humor in the lines around his eyes or and deep joy in his smile? I have to believe there are folks who’ve written: “I’m not gay but…”
A lot like my relationship with Tool, I arrived late to the Queens of the Stone Age (QOTSA) party. In my 20s during the nightmare hell of 80s poseur/party hair-metal bands, the only response I had for MTV metal was no, just no. Granted, I made up ways to define bands other people said were metal so that they weren’t metal… because I liked that one or this one, but we all make excuses, yes?
Again, like Tool, Homme’s first band, Kyuss, was categorized as “experimental metal” in something I read in the 90s and, as a result, I dismissed them out of hand. Similar things were said about QOTSA – and the name sounded stupid – so there was no way they were getting a serious listen. I even tried an EP they shared with another band, Beaver, and I liked Beaver’s songs better (especially “Morocco,” you should check it out.) Anyway, if I was looking for power chords and gloriously volume, the first Killing Joke album, Big Black’s single, “Il Duce,” or Screaming Trees’ cover of Buffalo’s throbbing 1972 non-hit “Freedom,” all sufficed. What’d I need experimental metal for?
And then, as so often happens when I’ve made reactive choices, the universe knocks you upside your head. A decade after dismissing QOTSA, I found out that Mark Lanegan – and who doesn’t love Mark Lanegan?! – had sung with them. I mean , c’mon, I’d dismissed these guys and Mark was just making me look bad… Of course, I’d heard that Dave Grohl played with them, too, but Foo Fighters at the time were on the ascendant and I found them monotonic and formulaic “alternative” power pop. But, Lanegan. Crap. So, before checking out the back catalog, I tried 2013’s … Like Clockwork. Listening to it as I drove the used Volvo wagon north on the highway to the university where I teach it was nothing special, why were the reviews so great? What had Lanegan seen?
I don’t know why, but a week later, I listened with earbuds in. It wasn’t the same record, there were layers upon layers and rhythms upon rhythms and that odd stuff Homme does with his voice made sense and, wow, what a record! I didn’t love every song but each and every one made sense as part of a totality. So, maybe it was time to track down the back catalog.
The last Kyuss release was called Queens of the Stone Age (1997) so I’ve included it. It’s an OK EP, I’ve included the best cut, “If Only Everything.” In looking back, what started to irritate me was that I wasn’t at all sure this was metal, why was this called metal? It seemed way more about guitars – it even reminded me a little of Swervedriver. Did that mean I didn’t know what metal was? Had it splintered and fractured in bizarre ways? Had the genre never made any sense to start with? Or do reviewers in the 21st C simply not know what to do with loud guitars that aren’t “alternative”? Sigh. In any event, the first, self-titled record – once again Queens of the Stone Age (1998) – had quite “interesting” cover art. That photo and the fact that it’s my favorite in the set meant that I had to select “Regular John” for the ICA.
Rated R (2000) is the record I am pretty sure I read the full review of when it came out and it’s a consistent group of songs but has no real standout – at least not for me. I considered “Monsters in the Parasol” but “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret” fit better in the emerging flow of the ICA as I put it together. Lanegan sang some on Rated R but he’s much more evident, to me, on Songs for the Deaf (2002). I don’t know if it was his involvement, but this is, overall, a very strong, if wildly uneven, set of songs. (Apparently, the band was a little bit out of control at the time.) I had to fight myself to include only two songs on the ICA but settled on “No One Knows” and “God is in the Radio” as most representative. I love the angular/martial rhythm that explodes right off the mark on “No One Knows” and the throbbing menace of “God is in the Radio” feeds a side of me usually repressed since I no longer play right back.
Just avoid Stone Age Complication (2004), it’s a collection of B-sides and the like and simply doesn’t work. Apparently, it was released without the band’s input. Songs for the Deaf and the extensive touring they did in support of it had made the band an international name and Lullabies to Paralyze (2005) solidified that position. As I was moving through the catalog, however, it became pretty clear to me that Homme, and others in his band, were center pivots in a world of spin-offs and related bands in LA – connected to everyone from Jack Black to Billy Gibbons, Dave Ween to Trent Reznor. Was all THIS why they were considered metal? Lullabies is another record that gets two songs. “Medication” and “Little Sister” are really strong – were great on that Austin City Limits show – and serve to hold the ICA together across two major transitions.
I liked Era Vulgaris (2007) but don’t find myself listening to it much, which might mean I don’t really like it that much. I think I like bits and pieces as songs, but it doesn’t really work as an album. I really like “Misfit Love,” though. I almost chose “I Sat by the Ocean” or “If I Had a Tail” – from … Like Clockwork (2013) to get at the different kinds of emotions and playfulness the band can provide but “I Appear Missing” immediately struck me as the song to start the ICA off with and there wasn’t room for the others. If you were a hip-hop DJ, the break is from 0:37 to 1:04. This was the record they were touring for when they played Austin and, by accident, I had fallen into the best record to introduce me to the band. Not only was it a return after the death of a band member, turnover in other areas, serious illness and a variety of side-projects, it’s a much more diverse group of songs than on previous albums. It sounds like stock music writing but there’s a maturity to the songwriting, the emotions, and how listenable it is.
Villains (2017) is the latest release. To be honest, I bought it, gave it a listen and life with teenagers intervened, and continues to intervene. I need to get back to it but, in a cursory re-review “Un-Reborn Again” stood out and perfectly anchors “Side A” of the ICA.
Did I mention that Homme convinced Iggy Pop to record his last record, backed him on it and was his touring band in support of it… and, when I saw them in Detroit, they couldn’t have been tighter?
There’s a bonus EP in this ICA… the format evolves? Homme, from the get-go, appears to have been an intense collaborator. And, more than that, his collaborations often turned into workshops. When I was looking around to discover more about Homme – particularly after he recorded the third episode of Guitar Moves, Matt Sweeney’s interview series for Noisey (Vice) (on youtube) – I found two volume sets of recordings called the Desert Sessions. I treat Desert Sessions and the band in my files, Even though it’s not really a band, the sets are really compilations, either… The 12 volumes have people from Danzig, The Dwarves, The Eagles of Death Metal, Hole, Lords of Altamont Marilyn Manson, The Miracle Workers, Nine Inch Nails, PJ Harvey, Primus, Scissor Sisters, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden, The Vandals, Ween, ZZ Top and more participating, so there’s a lot going on. As workshopping, however, the songs are often more “interesting” than “good” – to my way of thinking. An EP’s-worth of sampling lies after the ICA.
Queens of the Stone Age – I Appear Missing – from … Like Clockwork (2013)
Queens of the Stone Age – The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret – from Rated R (2000)
Queens of the Stone Age – Medication – from Lullabies to Paralyze (2005)
Kyuss – If Only Everything – from Queens of the Stone Age (1997)
Queens of the Stone Age – Un-Reborn Again – from Villains (2017)
Queens of the Stone Age – Regular John – from Queens of the Stone Age (1998)
Queens of the Stone Age – Little Sister – from Lullabies to Paralyze (2005)
Queens of the Stone Age – No One Knows – from Songs for the Deaf (2002)
Queens of the Stone Age – Misfit Love – from Era Vulgaris (2007)
Queens of the Stone Age – God is in the Radio – from Songs for the Dead (2002)
Desert Sessions – I Wanna Make It Wit Chu – Volumes 9 & 10 (2003)
Desert Sessions – Like a Drug – Volumes 5 & 6 (1999)
Desert Sessions – Cowards Way Out – Volumes 1 & 2 (1998)
Desert Sessions – The Gosso King of Crater Lake – Volumes 3 & 4 (1998)
Desert Sessions – Powdered Wig Machine – Volumes 9 & 10 (2003)
I’d actually forgotten how many great songs QoSTA had released over the year. They are a particular favourite of Mrs Villain, so I know a fair bit of the material. Also worth mentioning that the Ginger Elvis did some great work on production duties with Arctic Monkeys.