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Queens Of The Stone Age

When KYUSS splintered into various factions in the mid-90s (singer John Garcia subsequently led out the equally voluminous UNIDA, via the short-lived Slo Burn), guitarist Josh Homme found his voice in QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE. But for a false start as Gamma Ray with the single, `If Only Everything’; b/w `Born To Hula’ (not knowing that former HELLOWEEN leader Kai Hansen had taken the moniker!), Homme and new buddies Van Conner and Vic the Stick (Indrizzio) carried the stoner-rock flag further on Man’s Ruin-financed shared mini-set with KYUSS. As if the man didn’t have enough on his plate with QOTSA, but with plenty of spare time on his hands, Josh re-formed The DESERT SESSIONS side-project, born from the ashes of KYUSS’ “generator parties” of the late 80s. Including all that was cool in the L.A. rock scene, Josh was becoming the Robert Altman of rock, recruiting whoever he needed necessary to boost each record. Coming in all colours and sizes (well, mainly 10” EPs), the first of these, `Vol.1: Instrumental Driving For Felons’ (1997), featured former SOUNDGARDEN bassist Ben Shepherd and his WELLWATER CONSPIRACY buddy John McBain (on guitar), plus EARTHLINGS? Fred Drake (drums) and Dave Catching (bass and guitar); note too, that ex-KYUSS/fresh QOTSA drummer Alfredo Hernandez was also on board. With various personnel, a further five “volumes” showed from early 1998 to mid 1999 on the alternative Man’s Ruin imprint; former KYUSS staple, Brant Bjork, throwing in his hat on most of them. The rare and pricy records were duly paired up, Vol.1 & 2 for example, on combination CDs. `Vol 3 & 4 saw them cover The GROUNDHOGS’ `Eccentric Man’.
With added bass touches from MASTERS OF REALITY mainman and KYUSS producer, Chris Goss, the eponymous debut QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE (1998) {*8} was unleashed to an unsuspecting public, complete with naughty cover shot. From the opening blasts of the riff-tastic `Regular John’ (dramatic chunky chord changes now their brand), to the heavy ballad of `You Can’t Quit Me Baby’ and the scorching `How To Handle A Rope’, this was a great start to their campaign.
Into the new millennium courtesy of a new major label deal with Interscope, the highly acclaimed RATED R (2000) {*9} sophomore set, measured up to its predecessor – in spades. Reunited with producer and part-time player, Goss, Homme had added the skills of co-songwriter/bassist Nick Oliveri, guitarist/pianist Dave Catching and either Nicky Lucero or Gene Trautman on drums. Guest spots for both Mark Lanegan and Barrett Martin (from SCREAMING TREES), the record featured highly in many end of year polls and finally saw Homme and Co gain the popular rock god homages that their music had always begged. The album started as it meant to go on with `Feel Good Hit Of The Summer’ gratuitously reeling off a list of narcotics ad nauseam. While markedly more hallucinogenic and swinging than its predecessor with more elaborate instrumentation and arrangements, the California stoners proved their desert-grunge could still scorch at a hundred paces on the likes of the demented `Lightning Song’. British hit single, `The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret’, was the record’s most accessible song, while `Leg Of Lamb’, recalled MASTERS OF REALITY at their trippy best.
The QUEENS returned in the summer of 2002 to issue their much anticipated follow-up to “R”, but this time with Lanegan on full-time guitar duties and ex-NIRVANA and FOO FIGHTERS frontman Dave Grohl on drumming duties. SONGS FOR THE DEAF {*8} was all the better for it, and although the band weren’t necessarily moving in new circles, their music was still punctuated with the same jaded desert-rock vibe that had made those early KYUSS albums so enjoyable. Grohl, hammering away like a madman, reminded people of how good he still was on the drums and Dean Ween (of WEEN) cranked up the tension even higher with his impeccable guitar playing. This was the album to break them into the Top 20 in America (Top 5 in Britain), while there were three explosive hits in `No One Knows’, `Go With The Flow’ and `First It Giveth’. As confusing as Homme’s output may have been (see below for further and more rigorous inspection), it was hard to ignore his diverse and varied musical ambitions, especially with tracks as brilliant as `Hangin’ Tree’ and `Song For The Dead’.
Meanwhile, Joshua Homme (as he was briefly monikered) began working on songs for the film, Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys; but his part on the OST was down to additional music; Marco Beltrami’s score was released by Milan in 2002. The guitarist also dabbled in a brand new project, Headband, with ex-MARILYN MANSON bassist Twiggy Ramirez and Casey Chaos from heavy rockers AMEN. There were no releases.
Prior to the release of LULLABIES TO PARALYZE {*7}, all the talk was of Oliveri’s departure and how it was going to affect the QUEENS’ sound. When the album finally arrived in spring 2005, the overwhelming consensus was that Homme was more than capable of howling down the wind on his own. Accurately titled, “Lullabies…” was at odds with almost every single rock album that charted that year (and there weren’t that many that managed a transatlantic Top 5 placing): aural ether for the decadent of heart, blues for a dethroned desert magus. No one outside of MASTERS OF REALITY have disseminated those dark-siren melodies as alluringly as Homme does on `Burn The Witch’ (abetted by ZZ TOP’s Billy Gibbons no less). The now obligatory live DVD/CD package, OVER THE YEARS AND THROUGH THE WOODS (2005) {*7} was a greatest hits in-concert hardcore fans just couldn’t resist.
With no Desert Sessions double volumes in the pipeline, EAGLES OF DEATH METAL were back with a second set, `Death By Sexy’ (2006). Keen for anything Josh Homme was behind, fans finally cottoned-on to the EAGLES OF DEATH METAL’s third set, `Heart On’ (2008).
In 2007, QOTSA rocked the house once again with ERA VULGARIS {*8}. With contributions from band members Joey Castillo and Troy VanLeeuwen, plus guest spots from The STROKES’ Julian Casablancas and the ever-faithful Lanegan, the Top 10 record blew the socks off their rivals, The WHITE STRIPES and FOO FIGHTERS. Displaying a Zeppelin-styled guitar riff, `Turnin’ On The Screw’, opened with muscle, while one couldn’t argue with the excellent `3’s & 7’s’ UK hit or the grinding `Sick, Sick, Sick’.
Marking yet another extracurricular project (we make it now six!), THEM CROOKED VULTURES boasted the supergroup alumni of Homme, Dave Grohl and JOHN PAUL JONES.
While fans awaited QOTSA’s sixth studio album with eager anticipation, Homme and Van Leeuwen completed the line-up with Dean Fertita (keyboards/guitar/lap steel) and Michael Shuman (bass). Augmented by an eclectic array of friends for 2013’s …LIKE CLOCKWORK {*9}, studio comings and goings for the likes of MARK LANEGAN, Jake Shears (SCISSOR SISTERS), Trent Reznor, Nick Oliveri, ARCTIC MONKEYS’ Alex Turner, Sir ELTON JOHN, drummers Grohl, Joey Castillo and Jon Theodore, plus Homme’s wife Brody Dalle, must’ve needed the odd bodyguard or two. Not a Boomtown Bob in sight and trademarked by that dirty, growling bass on opening `Keep Your Eyes Peeled’, the chart-topping record – their first for Matador Records – was middle-aged stoner-rock at its most momentous. Tempered by the pastoral-meets-grunge, `Kalopsia’ (think PINK FLOYD fronted by JEFF LYNNE), or the BLUR-esque `I Sat By The Ocean’, `My God Is The Sun’ is the poison, as much as the funereal `The Vampyre Of Time And Memory’ is the antidote needed to pour into the grooves. If fans looking for out-and-out head-banging, then QOTSA curtail this several times with some beautiful pieces that draw their inspiration from time’s best decade – the 70s.
A feature of the QOTSA singles were the B-sides covers in The KINKS’ `Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy’ + `Who’ll Be The Next In Line’, `Never Say Never’ (Romeo Void), `Wake Up Screaming’ (The SUBHUMANS), `The Most Exalted Potentate Of Love’ (The CRAMPS), `Needles In The Camel’s Eye’ (ENO), `White Wedding’ (BILLY IDOL), `Goin’ Out West’ (TOM WAITS) and `Christian Brothers’ (ELLIOTT SMITH).
After a spreadsheet that incorporated work for Homme and Co on IGGY POP’s `Post Pop Depression’ (in 2016), QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – drummer Jon Theodore in for Castillo – returned to the fray for 2017’s UK chart-topping VILLAINS {*8}. Produced by “Uptown Funker” MARK RONSON (known best for his work with AMY WINEHOUSE), there was surprisingly no compromise to their swaggering stoner boogie. Besides one minor slip into “20th Century BOLAN Boy” territory on `Un-Born Again’, QOTSA ascended high under riff-tastic rock auspices a la `Feet Don’t Fail Me’, `Domesticated Animals’, `Head Like A Haunted House’, `The Evil Has Landed’, `The Way You Used To Do’ et al.
© MC Strong 2000-2006/GRD / rev-up MCS Sep2012-Jun2013-Sep2017

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