Queens of the Stone Age
Album number five from desert rockers Queens of the Stone Age returns to the experimental-tinged territory first seen on 2002's Rate R. And while Rate R benefited from the triple vocal attack of main man Josh Homme, ex-bassist Nick Oliveri and occasional guest vocalist Mark Lanegan, Era Vulgaris is sonically the most abrasive album QOTSA have committed to tape yet.
Alright, let’s get it out there: this album’s going to bewilder some fans. Sonically, the band is all over the map, pushing their own musical borders to strange new lands. With the liner notes listing the current lineup as Josh Homme, Troy Vanleuwan, and Joey Castillo, a new core has been formed, and the results are explosive.
The seeds of where Homme & Co. headed sonically on Era could be observed on the recent live album/DVD Over The Years & Through the Woods: the Sabbath/Dead-ish jam of “Someone's in the Wolf”, the hallucinatory circus-like craze of non-album cut "The Fun Machine Took a Shit & Died" combined with classic mono-riffers like "Mexicola" and “Song for the Dead” demonstrated that QOTSA were in complete control of their musical frankenstein and now in a position to push their own boundaries of what could be done.
Opener "Turn on the Screw" lays down the blueprint for the album: thunderously disjointed rhythms that stomp and start, guitars that screech and roar until a filthy groove is located, and Josh Homme's saintly croon fusing all the disparate elements together.
This in no way prepares the listener for the single note onslaught of current single "Sick Sick Sick". The Stroke's Julian Casablancas guests, but Lord knows what he’s actually doing in the song. Lyrics are spit out in rapid clips until the robotic chorus begins chanting “Sick Sick Sick/Don’t Resist”, as the main riff jackhammers its way into your skull. Sick indeed.
Where the under-appreciated Lullabies To Paralyze sounded like the beginning of a terrifying acid trip, Era Vulgaris is a sleazy high-speed drive into the neon lights of modern oblivion. Songs almost hurl themselves at the listener, which might cause some fans to feel the album is lacking in the straight-ahead riffs or grooves that seduced many fans on their self titled debut or the classic Songs for the Deaf.
But fear not musical friends, all those classic elements are present, just stripped raw and layered into a dense electro blast of rock ‘n roll. The production work by Chris Goss (Master’s of Reality) and Homme leaves behind the ethereal nursery rhyme psychedelia of Lullabies to Paralyze for a sweaty, stuck-on-an-LA-freeway-with-no-air-conditioning claustrophobic vibe.
Songs like “Misfit Love” fuses a scuzz rock riff to a hip-shaking beat, letting QOTSA’s libido groove hard while rocking harder (all puns intended). On the infectiously jarring “I’m Designer” Homme sings “Never again will I repeat myself” and he seems dead-set on fulfilling that promise with the song’s tin can beat and off-kilter verses, only to switch gears into a dreamy, pop-tinged chorus and then back again.
Elsewhere songs like “Make it Wit Chu” bring the volume down a bit and allow the band to indulge in some Exile on Main Street style swagger as Homme’s falsetto gently glides over a stomping piano riff. Compared to the other cuts, “Make It Wit Chu” (originally a Desert Sessions cut) might seem out of place, but aside from being a relaxing change of pace, it reminds the listener that underneath the extreme amp buzz lays a rocking boogie band that just wants the ladies to dance.
Not everything works: “Battery Acid” and “River in the Road” transform into a cacophony of riffy indulgence that goes nowhere. The sequencing has songs literally colliding into each other, which again, will probably turn off some fans. Era Vulgaris translates to the modern age, and whether it relates to QOTSA’s commentary about our modern times is anybody’s guess. Given the current social and political climate, it sure feels likes a fitting soundtrack.