Queens of the Stone Age are nothing if not consistent — the rerelease of their first album clearly proves that. From the beginning, Josh Homme had a solid, well defined sound: heavy riff based rock played with mechanical precision and high smooth vocals. Though Homme and pals derived from the desert stoner rock band Kyuss, QOTSA clearly improve that band’s blueprint by toning down (somewhat) the macho-metal influence, evident at the very least in the proclamation of being Queens. Homme’s label, Rekords Rekords, has reissued the out-of-print first album in the current QOTSA output lapse, including three new tracks.
QOTSA did carry on the scene Kyuss inaugurated, becoming the new major practitioners of so-called stoner rock. The difference that QOTSA brings to this sound, and which became very evident to me upon listening to this album anew, is that they don’t begin as so many other stoner bands do from Black Sabbath castoff riffs. The best song on this album — which was also its only single and first appeared on the Kyuss split — is “If Only”, which is a reworking of the Stooges’ riff from “I Wanna Be Your Dog”. QOTSA have the Stooges heaviness, if not their noise. They also share a seething sexuality — but with Homme et al this sex never boils over as it does with Iggy.
The three new tracks have been previously released, albeit on hard to find and old splits (the first two are off The Split CD with Beaver that came out after the first album; the last track comes from the split EP with Kyuss, that first introduced QOTSA, the year before). These songs are worked into the original album sequencing as if they were always there. They provide no revelation, though they do alter somewhat the feel of the album.
Here’s what’s new: “The Bronze” is a fast, driving and catchy song that has long wanky guitar interludes (reminiscent of the lead guitar on the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy”) and it’s one of the best tracks on the album. “These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For” is an interesting instrumental since it opens with Homme’s high pitched guitar notes fading quickly in and out over stuttering drums — unusual for their tightly restrained sound, but it soon coheres into a typically tightly wound track. “Spiders and Vinegaroons” — another instrumental — has a stomping beat with a phased guitar playing a gypsy-like melody.
With the last two added instrumental tracks, the total number of instrumentals on the rerelease is three. On the second half of the album every other track is an instrumental. This makes the album a bit more spacious, loosening the closely reined riffage. But the beginning of the album is really where it’s at: the irresistible introductory trio of songs, “Regular John”, “Avon”, and “If Only”, which set forth the trademark sound we have all come to know and love like a kind of manifesto. The other half of the QOTSA program is the heavy yet dreamy ballad, represented here by “You Can’t Quit Me Baby”, a more spacious song, led by a bass rather than guitar (though Homme’s high pitched warm lead guitar is by no means absent), and the piano led closer “I Was a Teenage Hand Model”, which is rhythmically reminiscent of the Desert Sessions track that later found its way onto the QOTSA album Era Vulgaris, “Make It Wit Chu”.
Queens of the Stone Age came out in 1998 and Homme’s vocals clearly set the group within the grunge lineage of the ‘90s. There’s always a slight recall of Alice in Chains’ stomach churning heaviness in the QOTSA sound. However, what brought QOTSA into the next millennium with relevance is their ability to not take themselves too seriously. Homme’s vocals aren’t just pained — there’s some sweetness in them.
Still QOTSA are definitely of a dying breed: big selling hard rock band that actually plays guitar solos – and good ones at that. They carry on this old tradition without much of the pomp of their predecessors, both in personality and in music. At the end of the last track on this album, we hear an answering machine message from Kyuss alum Nick Oliveri agreeing to join the band. He was the most visible member of the band, with his long beard and his notorious nude performance (not a groundbreaking event, though he got arrested). His joining the band ushered in QOTSA two best albums — the next two, Rated R, which had a deluxe rerelease last year, and Songs for the Deaf, which featured Dave Grohl on drums. But his antics (and partying?) were too much and he got booted shortly thereafter.
So in the end what stands out about Homme’s band is its leveling consistency. The best songs are really good; and the other songs sound sort of like their best songs, just slightly less good. And everything remains in this meaty swath of goodness. This rerelease proves that it was always really Homme’s personal vision (he even plays bass on this album); it was always sure, and not much has changed (not even when he formed Them Crooked Vultures with John Paul Jones and Dave Grohl — which just sounds like QOTSA). None of this is to knock the band or the sound, which fulfills a heavy yet melodic rock need. QOTSA give you what you want and do it right. But QOTSA maintain a kind of impersonality, even though their sound is immediately recognizable, and that is anomalous with the hard rock tradition. I miss the outrageous excess.