2005, Rasputin Manifesto
Believe the hype - Queens Of The Stone Age really are that great.
Here's a band which I have found myself calling the Steely Dan of hard rock. Two men consistently steered the ship, while everyone else in their camp is simply a revolving cast of hired hands. Their first three records are contemporary hard rock classics, and the star guests who lent their skills to the records never hogged the spotlight.
Well, just when I thought I had them pegged, Queens -- or more accurately, singer/guitarist Josh Homme -- fired co-founder Nick Oliveri last year. It seemed that QOTSA couldn't exist without either Josh or Nick, and even if they did carry on, where would that dynamic be which comes from two old friends interacting/fighting with each other?
As it turns out, the absence of Nick isn't as tremendous a loss as expected. Think of the difference between Crosby, Stills & Nash's first album and the follow-up that added Neil Young, and you'll have a sound analogy to work with. The records with Nick (not so much the first record, though) are like CSNY's Déjà vu - thoroughly great, but disjointed and chaotic in their own charming way. Lullabies To Paralyze (Interscope), and for that matter the self-titled 1998 debut (Loosegroove), are like the first CSN record - solid, consistent, disciplined, yet exciting and teetering on chaos just enough so that it never falls off the ledge.
The slightly less chaotic feel of the record may be on account of the fact that Lullabies To Paralyze is less gimmicky than the previous two records. It balances the straight-forward stoner rock of the first record with the tightened songcraft of Songs For The Deaf (Interscope). No handclaps and girls chanting "yeah yeah yeah yeah," no fake radio broadcast soundbites, no reprises of "Feel Good Hit Of The Summer." But you still got some tunes on the second half of the record, like "Someone's In The Wolf" and "The Blood Is Love," that are cut from the same cloth as "Better Living Through Chemistry" and "I Think I Lost My Headache" - top tunes tailor-made for a toke or two. Fortunately, some things never change (not yet anyway).
What's also missing are those rapid-fire scream-fests like "Tension Head" and "Millionaire" that Nick did so well. Do I miss him? You bet your beloved heiny I do. He was the band's enema. When things got too tight in the ass, Nick came along to loosen that shit up. His shouts and screams and humor and murderous bass are missed on the new record, good and solid and worthy of praise as it is.
What's more, his loss will be felt especially in the live experience, I predict. The shirtless, devilish goatee-wearing, balls-out screamer won't be there to provide visual contrast to the more stoic, fully-clothed Josh, and the chemistry between the two buddies will be gone. Someome new (and probably temporary, knowing this band) will be in his place. Will we remember him tomorrow?
If Josh set out to make a record that would be so good as to keep us from lamenting Nick's loss, he just may have succeeded. I won't forget, but I can't say that the record truly suffers in any way due to what's there or what's not there. It's a great Queens record, and as long as the band remains inspired and driven by the chaos of constant change, we'll probably have at least a few more great records to which we can look forward.