Review Summary: Often forgotten due to its relative obscurity, this debut represents the transition point from Kyuss to the band we all know today.
Whether you like his music or not, it simply cannot be denied that Josh Homme has featured in two of the most important rock bands of modern times. His first band, Kyuss practically defined ‘stoner’ rock or metal as we know it in the nineties, with their heavy, psychadelic sound proving a massive inspiration to countless followers. With his own band, Queens Of The Stone Age, Homme then brought the genre to a more mainstream audience, while still retaining stacks of acclaim and credibility along the way. These achievements, along with his various side projects and collaborations, have prompted many to call the ginger axeman one of the greatest modern rock stars, one of the few currently relevant individuals who will be widely remembered for decades to come.
Back in 1998, however, Homme’s career was in a stage of transition. Kyuss had disbanded the year before, and Homme was only just getting his new project off the ground. Originally operating under the moniker Gamma Ray, until the German power metal band of the same name threatened legal action, Homme reunited one time Kyuss member Alfedro Hernandez to handle drumming duties, while handling bass duties himself (Nick Oliveri – another former Kyuss member – joined the band later). A number of other musicians made brief contributions, but it was Homme and Hernandez who performed the vast majority of the bands first album. Queens Of The Stone Age’s self titled debut certainly isn’t one of the most lauded or popular records Homme has put his name to, but considering what came before as well as after, this certainly doesn’t make it sub-par. In fact, the vast majority of the album is of a strong standard, and so this relatively under appreciated gem fully merits it’s place among QOTSA’s excellent cannon of releases.
Although the record is certainly a departure from the sound of Kyuss, there are a number of similarities that you would expect. Pretty much the entire album is riff-orientated, in a style that Homme himself dubbed ‘robot rock’ (he has always rejected the term ‘stoner’), and most of the time this formula works well. As you would expect from such an acclaimed guitarist, there are some stellar riffs on show here, such as those that drive songs like How To Handle A Rope
and If Only
, and it’s no coincidence that these prove to be some of the albums most immediate and best moments. The riffs aren’t as dense or slow as those that dominated every Kyuss record, but there are obvious similarities between the two bands in this area. The main way in which QOTSA distinguish themselves from the band from which they descended is vocally. Homme's masterful falsetto remains one of the most recognisable voices in modern rock, and even at this early stage it stands out as one of the bands strongest features, giving many of the songs a laid back, mystical ambiance that they would otherwise lack. This psychedelic ‘desert’ sound has become one of the bands trademarks, and although still fairly primitive here it’s one of the aspects that makes this record a success.
As far as the actual songs go, the clear standout is the opener, Regular John
, which remains to this day arguably the best song the band has ever produced. Stunning in its simplicity, the song is tellingly defined by a straight forward, but wonderfully effective riff, and Homme's voice, which complements the dense musical backdrop wonderfully. In fact, on this early career highlight, pretty much every aspect of the bands sound is exercised to perfection. In truth, all that is wrong with the song is that it sets a bar that is simply too high for the rest of the albums material to match. There are other excellent moments, however, which more than save the album from being a one-song wonder, if such a term exists. In fact, the remaining ten tracks represent a very solid body of work, with song such as You Would Know
and the aforementioned If Only
being among the highlights.
Despite its obvious strengths, though, Queens Of The Stone Age's debut doesn’t represent a band at the peak of its powers, as at this stage they were still far from the complete package. Despite the differences previously stated, the band was yet to truly break free from the shackles of Kyuss, and develop its own unique sound that would characterise later releases. The sound that the band would go on to showcase was one of much variety, and the lack thereof is probably the main weakness of this set. Aside from an excellent instrumental, Hispanic Impressions
, all of the songs here sound relatively similar, with all maintaining the same ‘desert’ vibe and riff driven structure. This wasn’t so much of a problem for Kyuss, as the music that they produced was both fresh and innovative, but by the time this album was released, the genres basic template had been widely used, and so the sound was no longer new or exciting.
Despite this, the band was at this point slowly but surely discovering its identity, and so this debut can be hailed as one that displayed much promise. It’s not as accessible (or, for that matter, strong) as the bands later albums – particularly the two which followed, but is still an essential for true fans since it contains some of the bands strongest material and was a crucial step in their evolution from underground legends to mainstream stars. With hindsight, we know that Queens Of The Stone Age would go on to bigger and better things, but this debut is still a worthy listen and hints at why they would become one of the most important rock artists of the coming decade.
How To Handle A Rope
You Would Know