Artist: Queens of the Stone Age
Album: Era Vulgaris
In January of 2004, Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri was fired from the band after frontman Josh Homme had become convinced that Oliveri was physically abusing his wife. By this time, Homme and Olveri’s psychic musical connection was legendary having spawned both the stoner rock genre with the band Kyuss and later a masterpiece- Queens of the Stone Age’s Songs for the Deaf. In one deliberate line-up decision, Homme found himself the sole leader of one of rock’s most important bands, a band that had always relied on a partnership for its brilliant results. With fans and critics anxiously anticipating a follow-up to Songs for the Deaf, Homme and his ever-changing line-up charged back with the criminally underrated Lullabies to Paralyze. The album received mixed reactions from fans and critics, with most of complaints revolving around Nick Oliveri’s absence.
Many forget, however, a very important piece of the beloved Songs for the Deaf puzzle: Dave Grohl on drums. Dave Grohl brought Queens of the Stone Age to a level that no one could have imagined possible on Songs for the Deaf. Grohl’s involvement in the band was never believed to be permanent. After the recording of Songs for the Deaf and a brief tour, Grohl returned to his main project, Foo Fighters. Joey Castillo quickly replaced him on the drums in Queens of the Stone Age. Only since Grohl’s departure has Queens lacked the muscle to match Songs for the Deaf.
Which brings us to Queens of the Stone Age’s latest release, Era Vulgaris. To say that Era Vulgaris lacks the immediacy of any previous Queens album is an understatement. It might seem that, for the most part, whatever psychic connection Josh Homme lost with Nick Oliveri’s departure, he has regained with multi-instrumentalist Troy van Leeuwen. But Joey Castillo’s weaknesses are right out in the open in the bridge and outro on the otherwise awesome opener “Turnin on the Screw.” Castillo lacks the ferocity and power of Grohl, leaving much of the album trudging along in the mud. Era Vulgaris’ best tracks are bluesy numbers “Make it Wit Chu” and the moody “Suture Up Your Future,” where Castillo is simply expected to keep time. These are the only songs on the record where Queens of the Stone Age’s swagger seems natural rather than forced.
Even though Castillo brings nothing to the table, most of the blame for Era Vulgaris’ failure falls on the shoulders of Josh Homme. QOTSA’s frontman makes several poor decisions in songwriting, production, and style. Songs like “Into the Hollow” and “3’s and 7’s” have groovy verses but weird, aimless choruses. It’s hard to be certain what he was going for on “Battery Acid,” but it sounds like shit. A reoccurring problem on Era Vulgaris is Homme’s tendency to pack too much into one song by attempting to be creative with awkward rhythms, exaggerated dynamics, and bridges that drift off into some dissonant oblivion. This leaves little to sing along to and, even worse for a Queens of the Stone Age album, nothing to dance to.
Contributions from Julian Casablancas and Mark Lanegan are inaudible and irrelevant. The hardware bought in stores is inexplicably void of four bonus tracks. One such track features Trent Reznor, not that it matters. He’s probably drowned out by misplaced, distorted sludge and obtrusive slide guitar.
On the unmelodic Zeppelin romp wannabe “I’m Designer,” Homme sings, “How many times must I sell myself until my pieces are gone?” It won’t matter if Homme fails to pick up those pieces and regroup after his band’s first disappointing album.
by Max Orenstein
Max Orenstein as a freelance writer who cares almost as much about Philadelphia sports as he does music. Not to mention, he's an avid Buffalo Bills fan. You'll be seeing more of Max in days to come, so you'd best get used to him. We're off until Monday. - Mr. Dogg