Review Summary: With an obvious shift in energy, QOTSA give us on a ride on weird side. Dark, dank, and dirty are the key words here. Long-time fans may balk at the strange, new noise, but ultimately there is some great songwriting beneath the veil.
Queens of the Stone Age have always had one thing on their side, that being their willingness to get their groove on. A sort of cartoonish, macabre groove for sure, but one that always gets your foot tapping. Sometimes head banging, particularly live. This album marks what could be a new direction for the band. One not as focused on getting your hips moving; it has more cerebral things in mind. But side effects include a blurry vision that can often leave the listener disoriented. And QOTSA probably prefers it that way.
Era Vulgaris begins with what sounds like a euphoric acid trip. But panning fuzz-drenched guitars and shifting tempos aside, things sound pretty normal. Almost too normal. Things immediately take a plunge into a darker, sweatier territory just as you start to think it's run it's course. 'Sick, Sick, Sick' gets some dissonant treatment from Julian Casablanas of The Strokes, and gives a perfect compliment to Josh Homme, who sounds at his most expressive as a front man.
Soon however, dissociative feelings take over. The heart of the album slows down. It's not insincere; just distant. Maybe the filtering of the instruments, whatever layers of production are put into the various bells and whistles... something isn't missing, it's just covered up. This can be slightly alienating for fans of their more direct, previous work. However, the concentrated, 10-month long recording process resulted in some great art. 'Battery Acid,' and I'm Designer,' see humor meet grit in their by now signature style, just with a more sickly charm. It's not as fast, so maybe not quite as fun for some, but you simply can't dance with an IV in your arm. Words can hardly describe the mysterious 'Into the Hollow,' but its a good example of the slow creep the band is feeling.
'3's & 7's' picks up the pace for a wake up call, with the whole band letting loose for the first time since the beginning of the trip. This is necessary, because it is also preceded by the overwhelmingly chill 'Make it Wit' Chu.' It's a a desert love jam that feels strangely out of place compared to the rest of the album.
What may be the best song on the album, the nearly heartbroken, stoner epic 'Suture Up Your Future,' contains some soul baring lyrics, sung with more conviction than ever by Josh.
"I'm not jaded, I just hate it. See I been down too long, it's kind of hard to explain, burn and buried all I carried..."
Longtime fans will recognize a more genuine tone that's been hinted at in previous excursions, but was rarely the center of attention ('I Never Came', 'In the Fade').
But it's still unclear. By the end of the album you still feel as if you're on a morphine drip waiting for someone to lower the dose. As 'River in the Road' fades into 'Run, Pig, Run,' some relief does come seeping in. Joey Castillo's drumming sends a tribal jolt of energy through the listener, almost chemically lulled to sleep at this point. For anyone who was still wondering whether or not they chose the right guy to fill the shoes of Dave Grohl and keep walking, they did. The drums death-march the song to one last distressed guitar tone, ending the album in abrupt suspense.
In review, the awkwardness of it all trying to fit together can be frustrating. Some moments seem to drone, and not in the way the previous records did it. Due to the blurred vision, some ideas come out half baked or... straight up baked, again like 'Into the Hollow.' Many inspired ideas reach up for their potential and then disappear like hallucinations. But it's all an acquired taste; it's a lot like those green olives. Salty, sultry and often seen with alcohol at strange parties.
An album that offers no easy answers, Era Vulgaris succeeds in making something unique. It doesn't ask to be understood, only to be taken for what it is. I'd try it a few times recreationally and decide for yourself.