Review Summary: Put your sunglasses on and drive off into the sunset.
Alright guys, I’ve come to a conclusion; Josh Homme is a madman. A madman with red hair (possibly horns too) and with such imaginative songwriting ability that only a special few can parallel him in mainstream rock. Let’s see what he’s done over the years, shall we? He invented stoner metal when he formed Kyuss with Nick Oliveri back in 87’ and from there they went on to create the genre’s two definitive albums, Blues For The Red Sun and Welcome to Sky Valley. Following the sudden break up of Kyuss, Josh Homme formed Queens of the Stone Age in 1998, and, with help from former Kyuss drummer Alfredo Hernandez, created their criminally underappreciated self-titled LP which was featured in a book called “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” by Robert Dimery. From there Josh reunited with Nick after the debut and they went on to make this LP, “Rated R”. On this album their lineup consisted of drummer Gene Trautmann, guitarists Dave Catching and Brendon McNichol with contributions from former Kyuss producer and Masters Of Reality genius Chris Goss and even a guest spot from Rob Halford (Vocals, Judas Priest) on “Feel Good Hit of The Summer”. All of the pieces were in place for Queens of the Stone Age to make their magnum opus.
“Rated R” definitely personifies the creative, experimental side of modern music. A wide variety of instruments and recording techniques are used on this LP, making it very unique and individual. Among the devices used are horns (baritone saxophones, trumpets, trombones, etc.) and many different forms of percussion (marimba, xylophone, steel drums, congas). I’d really like to give my two cents on the panning effects because I believe they’re easily the most essential part of the album. Wow, the things this LP does to my ears. Never have I been surrounded by sound in such a way. Background vocals come at you from every direction, notes and motifs fade in and out casually like people entering and leaving a conversation. This is a party being held in a studio booth, and you (the listener) are invited.
Kicking off the album is the adrenaline charge of “Feel Good Hit of The Summer”, with a list of substances that reminds one of “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson. The choruses hit the listener with lightning strike intensity, inspiring them to take part in the festivities (C-c-c-cocaine).
This song is really hazardous when on the highway because while driving, this is sure to stimulate (no pun intended) the driver, causing a sharp increase in speed (and confidence). Through a silky transition, the now tossed around listener is tossed yet again into the cool, macho riff of this album’s single, “The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret”. The marimba really shines here, outlining the testosterone-driven sound with some neat, glossy tones. The choruses here are at their catchiest, and the audience will most certainly be caught and pleasured by the warm falsetto harmonies and the baritone sax underlining the main riff. This pair of tracks is a successful introduction to an overall successful record.
Continuing on, we pass through the systematic stomp of “Leg of Lamb” through onto “Auto Pilot”. “Auto Pilot” is a fleshly dream of designer drug proportions, illustrating the band’s gift for creating a surreal, sensual landscape in the span of 4 minutes. Bassist Nick Oliveri takes vocal duties on this track and does a pretty good job. The bridge section describes and causes an out of body, floating feeling, as if you’re spacewalking almost. This same fantasy is further detailed in the sprawling, desert tinged, epic riff convention of “Better Living Through Chemistry”. This is by far the highlight of the album, standing apart from the track list with its groove laden, surrealist crawl. As mentioned previously, the panning effects could possibly be the most important part of the album.
During the middle solo section, the riff fades out to the left ear and diminishes completely but, then it comes back through the right ear, as if Josh Homme and Co. just did a full orbit around the head.
Furthermore, the album only continues to get more and more bizarre after “Better Living Through Chemistry”. “Monsters in the Parasol” is a muscular, ass shaking jam about a transvestite (“You’ve got a monster in your parasol”). This song has somewhat of a dancing spell on me to be completely honest and it’s very catchy. The overall catchiness of the record for the amount of musicality being displayed is downright astonishing. The band has a definite knack for writing infectious hooks. “Monsters in the Parasol” tends to get lodged in my brain and plays itself over and over as I go about my day. From there the oddities only increase as we find ourselves on “Quick and to the Pointless”. Nick Oliveri has vocals again, but they aren’t anything like the vocal track he provided for “Auto Pilot”. “Quick and to the Pointless” features Mr. Oliveri screaming his libido and it proves to be a fun affair. The lyrics to this horny display are downright outrageous but serve as comic relief to the generally serious parts of the album.
Also, former Screaming Trees vocalist Mark Lanegan is featured on “Rated R”; he sings “In The Fade”. His raspy tone brings out the general melancholy of the song very beautifully. The panning effects also shine here as the riff is echoed to each ear in eighth note subdivisions. The choruses come in strong like usual, but even stronger here because Mark Lanegan is singing them. Lanegan has an undeniable amount of emotion in his voice making this song a surefire highlight of the LP. From there, the band takes the piss out of the listener by providing an unnecessary but welcomed reprise of “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”. Following that, the paranoia ascends to its maximum height as “Tension Head” begins. Nick Oliveri takes the vocals yet again for this one and doesn’t disappoint. His frenzied howls definitely make the song. Lines like “I feel so ***ing sick” hit home with the listener all due to the anger driven vocal delivery. Also, another note about this song is its overload on badass. This is the other driving hazard about the album, helping timid listeners put the pedal to the metal.
“Tension Head” ends abruptly and gives way to the relaxing acoustic song “Lightning Song”. “Lightning Song” does the job of calming the listener down pretty well, as the finale to “Rated R” is the most tense moment of the album. “I Think I Lost My Headache” is another very bizarre track but also one of the best. The paranoid feeling expressed in “Tension Head” returns with the overall ominous feeling of the main riff. The lyrics also provide a cynicism and paranoia unparalleled by any other song on the album (“love is blind”, “you know why they call and just let it ring; no reply”, “medicate just to make you soft”). The song’s length is essential to its unsettling feeling growing more and more uncomfortable but, after about 6 minutes however the band pulls a fast one on us and the guitars turn into a comical horn section. What a way to end an album.
Ultimately, “Rated R” is an incredible effort from the muses of Queens of the Stone Age. Combined elements such as musicality and catchy songwriting take the record to new heights. The general oddity of the album, bizarre recording techniques and the off-kilter instrumentation make the album undeniably original, if not innovative. Highlights of the album include “The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret”, “Better Living Through Chemistry”, “In The Fade” and “I Think I Lost My Headache” though the album is better if listened to in its entirety. You'll be hard pressed to find an album quite like this in modern music. Bravo, Queens of the Stone Age, bravo.