Review Summary: Desert scenes, fast cars, and narcotics, oh my! A perfect blend of stomping drums, chugging riffs, and super low bass, that makes "Songs for the Deaf" the best road trip music I've heard in years.
One of my favorite scenes in any film is one from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”; where Hunter S. Thompson claims he’s “just another freak, in the freak kingdom”. With his Red Shark automobile loaded up with a treasure trove of powders, pills, and various tonics, he takes off through the desert. If there was any one way to describe the Queens of the Stone Age, it would be this image I just described. Hell, the lead off track from their previous album, “Rated R”, was a wild drag race chugging along to a “C-c-c-c-c-cocaine!” refrain; imaking it painfully obvious that these guys aren't just simply playing “stoner rock”, but indeed, mixing a deadly cocktail of hard narcotics, desert trips, and sleazy sex.
Your invitation to the desert trip Odyssey that is “Songs for the Deaf” begins with the buzz of a radio tuner, and a few moments of scrambling through various distant channels sent from the Mexican border. A mock radio host introduces us to “Songs for the Deaf”; “you can’t even hear it!”, he exclaims. Indeed, we can hardly hear for a few moments, as the distant drums of “You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” patter away like a sickly child playing on tin cans; that is until it explodes into a mad dash, mosh pit, fight for survival. Bassist Nick Oliveri screams at the top of his lungs like some sort of meth addict, as fuzzed out guitars, lumbering bass, and the ever so heavy drums pound away at your brain. I don’t think I would be too far off the mark if I claimed that Queens of the Stone Age are a modern day Black Sabbath, sans the wizards and men made of iron.
It’s so very odd describing the “Queens of the Stone Age” “sound” though. What they play isn’t really anything you haven’t heard before, like I said, they are comparable to Black Sabbath in that they choose to take a few amazing riffs, and pound them into your head for minutes on end. However, there are so many odd little traits sprinkled throughout their sound that you really can’t pigeonholed them; they’re totally idiosyncratic and so very "normal" at the same time. Mastermind behind the group (and several others) Joshua Homme plays a variety of worn out guitars (crafted by some obscure Mexican companies) layered with piles of super fuzzy, yet warm, tones, while Nick Oliveri, the notorious “meth addict bassist” I described above, does his best to keep up with Hommes’ chugging guitars, while at the same time, lending a hand on the vocal sides of things (mostly in the form of, you guessed it, screaming). The only new member on this release is none other than Dave Grohl, who’s powerhouse drumming style really compliments Nick’s bass playing, allowing the band to weed out their mid-tempo “stoner rock” songs of their past two albums, and focus purely on the non-stop driving force behind these tracks. There isn’t the same variety that we found on “Rated R”, but at least the band is focusing on their strengths.
The most interesting aspect of the band is that behind all of their muscle clad, “manly music for manly men” macho riffing is the sweet voiced Joshua Homme. His vocals truly transform these songs from punk rockers into odd little melodic gems, without really sacrificing any of the power of the band. Hell, his lyrics even tend to fall a bit into the more sensitive side at times, such as on the piano boogie thrasher “Go with the Flow” where he sings “I want something good to die for, to make it beautiful to live”. The couples described on this album aren’t your traditional “tragic figures” and star-crossed lovers though, but instead, something akin to that couple from the diner scene in Pulp Fiction. Self destructive, yet burning passionately together. Perfect for Homme's "bad-boy" attitude.
Though the record sprawls, it keeps a close eye on composition, with most of the songs being linked by well organized (and sometimes, rather convincing) radio stations fading in and out between the tracks. It’s this interconnecting twine that sews the seams between each of these rockers; and though not really a concept album, it is in fact an album that follows a theme. The other thing that keeps this record from falling into monotony is just how very solid each song is through and through. Sure, there are notable stand-outs (such as the slightly trippy classic, “No One Knows”, the epic “The Sky is Fallin’”, and the previously mentioned “Go With the Flow”), but each and every track has just the right key ingredients to make them all worthwhile listens. The formula is, as follows:
1) Each song is built around a killer riff
2) Each song contains catchy vocal melodies
3) Each song contains one or two dashes of oddities that make them unique (such as the mini guitar solos on the stripper stomp “Song for the Dead” or the Spanish guitar and tambourine quivering rock of “Just another Love Song”)
4) Non-stop power.
Even the only real soft song on the album, “Mosquito Song” works; as it weaves beautiful acoustic guitars, accordions, and horns into an appropriate end to a furious record.
The real only fault on the album is one of the same exact traits that make it strong; the fact that each of these songs are so solid takes away some of their shine. This sort of consistency makes these few songs no more special than the other solid tracks, and they seem lack luster when compared to those obviously fantastic radio singles. “First It Giveth” follows “No One Knows”, and contrasts the previous song with weak vocals. “Six Shooter” follows “The Sky is Fallin’”, and in it’s less than two minutes length, and no real melody, it fills the role of “filler track”. Lastly, “Gonna Leave You”, while probably the strongest of the three mentioned here, just seems rather boring, especially coming after “Go with the Flow”. They're just not up to snuff.
I just can't help appreciating this band though; they've managed to create some real "windows down, step on the gas" rock music that seems so fresh in such a stale music environment (well, as far as popular music goes, that is). For a hit of new rock music with raw power, I really wouldn’t look any further than this here record. With a newly refined sound, a new set of chops, and Joshua’s drawling voice wrapping around a stripper’s pole twist of rock’n’roll, Queens of the Stone Age prove they aren’t simply Kyuss 2.0.