QOTSA – The Full Back Catalogue (Part 2)

This is a continuation post- for the first part, click here.

Songs For The Deaf had elevated QOTSA into the stratosphere, and for good reason – it was an excellent album, with punchy, intense songs that got the blood pumping. At the time of its release, most of the alternative music community was focused on Nu Metal, but Queens of the Stone Age had no pretensions about doing anything aside from creating hard rock that you could shake your ass to.

It’s difficult to talk about the band’s future without mentioning the events that took place between Queens’ third and fourth album, and I’m not going to dwell on it for too long or even attempt to break down all the elements to it, as there is enough for another post entirely. In the SFTD era, if you asked anyone who wasn’t that familiar with QOTSA to describe the band, they would probably mention a ginger giant with a seemingly infinite cache of killer riffs, and a bald, bearded bassist who hates clothes and loves screaming. While this is not entirely inaccurate, there is far more to it than that.

The partnership between Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri dates back to Kyuss, and while Homme recorded most of the bass for the self titled album, Oliveri was a mainstay in the band throughout each era, and it was almost as if he was the ying to Josh Homme’s yang.

This all changed in 2004, when, after a lot of drama, Nick Oliveri was asked to leave the band. In a way, this shook the band’s foundation, but the media storm that followed it seemed to perpetuate the situation, and the question was raised as to how QOTSA were going to follow-up Songs For The Deaf. The band answered this with their fourth release; Lullabies To Paralyze.

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Lullabies To Paralyze (2005)

The album begins with an acoustic ballad, “This Lullaby”, which is a bare, thoughtful waltz about separation, and longing over lost love. I often skip over this track, but having only just heard it again after about six years, I’ve realised that it’s an excellent opener to the album. Not only does it follow on the reflective tone from SFTD’s closing track, but it blends very nicely into the second track, “Medication”, which kicks things into fifth gear without hesitation. I often feel like if I was driving to this song, I would have about six speeding tickets by the time the song is over.

The album itself is far more conceptual than the first three releases, and while the formula is the same, I find that there’s a greater range of dynamics on offer here. I’ve always thought that this is almost an album of two halves, with the first part being a little bit easier to digest than the second – not that the later tracks are outstandingly fucked up, but things get a little more experimental after “I Never Came”.

If I were to pick one track that exemplifies the whole feel of the album, it would have to be “Someone’s In The Wolf”. The track is a creepy, brooding seven minute epic, one which conjures up images of being stalked in the woods by some malevolent being. This album is probably one of the darkest releases from QOTSA so far, but parts of it seem to lose focus when compared to previous efforts.

Recommended Tracks: Tangled Up In Plaid, Someone’s In The Wolf, Everybody Knows That You’re Insane.

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Era Vulgaris (2007)

After another line-up change, Queens of the Stone Age changed their flavour again with Era Vulgaris, and even to this day, I would say that this album is kind of the wild card in the back catalogue. Right from the outset, “Turnin’ on the Screw” has a very industrial sound to it, with more brittle, thin guitar tones bouncing off each other, undercut with  buzzsaw – like synthesizers and fat, syncopated bass lines. This kind of crunchy, mechanised sound really gets into its element with “Battery Acid”, which is one of the most chaotic songs I’ve heard by the band so far.

To say it’s totally removed from Lullabies would be a little bit of an overstatement, as songs like “Into the Hollow”, and “Suture Up Your Future” fit the dark, almost bluesy tone of the later tracks of the previous album. Having said that, there’s more of a robotic influence running through a lot of the tracks, which is a kind of contrast to the organic, folklorish quality to LTP.

At the time of release, I loved the direction that the band were taking, however, listening back to it, I think that this is probably the album that I find myself coming back to the least. Not because it’s a bad album by any means, but because I find that I really have to be in a certain mood to really appreciate what’s going on here, whereas I almost always have time for QOTSA’s other albums.

Recommended Tracks: Turnin’ On The Screw, Misfit Love, 3s and 7s.

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…Like Clockwork (2013)

 Following some extensive touring of Era Vulgaris, and the formation of the short-lived (but excellent) Them Crooked Vultures, Queens took a break, partly due to Josh Homme being hospitalised, in a serious condition. The effect on the subsequent release was quite profound; with …Like Clockwork being a thoughtful, emotive album that probably wouldn’t sound anything like it does if it weren’t for the events that preceded it.

This isn’t to say the album is a slouch – the focus has come back to catchy riffs and a wall of noise, but this time around, the band have developed the most varied and rich aural palette of their career. Each song has a confidence and sense of purpose, and right from the first track “Keep Your Eyes Peeled”, there’s a good variation in pacing, and each song is kind of like a journey in itself. The layering on each song reaches new levels, as every member kind of has a chance to shine on each track, and you get the impression that this album was written with three (or more) lead instruments in mind.

It may sound like I am unreservedly praising this album, but to be honest I don’t have anything negative to say about it, as it is one of the most focused and strongest albums that QOTSA have released. If I were to pick out a stand out track, I would probably go for either “I Appear Missing” – a melancholic, almost desperate sounding song, which builds to a cathartic chorus, and an absolutely gorgeous outro solo. I think I’d have to give honourable mention to “Fairweather Friends”, which is a display in pure self-indulgence , done in the best possible way – as a bonus, Mark Lanegan and Elton John also join in on this track, because why the fuck not?

Recommended Tracks: I Appear Missing, Fairweather Friends, I Sat By The Ocean.

 

It’s hard to say where to start with QOTSA’s back catalogue, but I would say that if you want an idea of what they are about now, go for …Like Clockwork, but if you want a solid, kick to the gut kind of album, go for Songs For The Deaf. Not that the previous albums are bad in any way, but because these two albums kind of sum up the two sides to QOTSA’s sound.

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