Wednesday, 11 July 2007

QOTSA - Debut CD

Queens of the Stone Age (1998)

Regular John / Avon / If Only / Walkin’ on the Sidewalks / You Would Know / How to Handle a Rope / Mexicola / Hispanic Impressions / You Can’t Quit Me Baby / Give the Mule What He Wants / I Was a Teenage Hand Model

Queens of the Stone AgeKyuss disbanded in 1995, shortly after the release of its most popular album …And the Circus Leaves Town, but it surely wasn’t because of the members' disinterest in making music, since the key members (and main song-writers, Josh Homme and John Garcia) commenced several other projects, none of which were an obvious rehashing of Kyuss’ monolithic desert-rock. Instead, they refined it, and created a more accessible variation on the dragging and psychedelic-tinged neo-Sabbath sludge. The most fruitful consequence of their prolific work ethic were probably the Desert Sessions-series, which featured members of Kyuss and similar, connected bands (like hot rod-stoners Fu Manchu and dope-rockers Monster Magnet). Garcia became involved in bands such as Slo Burn and Unida (check out their great album Coping with the Urban Coyote (1999)), which updated stoner-rock with a more straightforward hard-rock direction, while Homme, drummer Alfredo Hernandez and bass player Nick Oliveiri started messing around with a new band that would eventually result in Queens of the Stone Age. This is where the historiography ends, as I don't consider myself the Herodotos of amateur web reviewers (really).

The self-titled firstborn of the band sounds like a logical extension of Kyuss' last album, moving further away from the massive rock of Welcome to Sky Valley, adding more melodic (ouch) elements, and an as yet unseen tightness, resulting in less epic – but easier digestible – work-outs. It was certainly something late 90's rock needed, as their no-nonsense 70's-influenced approach proved to be a fitting antidote for an excessively praised eclecticism which barely succeeded in covering up its own emptiness. "Regular John," "Avon" and "If Only," the bunch that set off the album, are excellent examples of the new combination of impressive force and a certain dose of pop-accessibility that enhances the songs' powerful appeal. Monotonous hard-rock riffs are the new trademark feature, and Homme's laconic vocals are also quite a departure from Garcia's grand yelping. He isn't much of a singer to begin with (calling him a powerhouse voice would be as ridiculous as calling Lemmy the "English nightingale"), but somehow his drugged delivery and thin sound (quite a contrast to the man's huge size) fits the full-bodied sound that more than often reminds me of Hendrix' wah wah-drenched guitar antics (Band of Gypsys-era). Another noticeable aspect of the album is Hernandez' simple but 100% bullet-proof drumming that always keeps things minimal, but also flowing and rocking. Together with Oliveiri (I presume he's the one referred to as "Carlo" in the liner notes), Hernandez makes up a great rhythm section. Oliveiri's bass – lead-heavy and deep – proudly wears the Chris Goss-stamp and provides more than just a foundation: it's rock solid. Equally impressive are the primal assault of "How to Handle a Rope" (man, that is a great one!) and the bone-crunching "Mexicola," which points to the future and is another album highlight. Slower and reminiscent of the members' previous project is "Walkin' the Sidewalks." It would have been a keeper, if it wasn't for that endlessly stretched ending (what a waste of tape). "You Would Know" is more mellow and finds the band in laidback-mode.The remaining four songs are unfortunately less impressive: "Hispanic Impressions" is a shorter (less then three minutes is short when you're dealing with these guys, who once were prone to endless space-jamming) instrumental that's quite fiery but doesn't really get anywhere. Similarly, the longer "You Can't Quit Me Baby" has a great flow to it, but ultimately, you'll be waiting for a pay-off that never comes. Finally, "Give the Mule What He Wants" ups the ante again, as it's a decent mid-tempo rocker, but it's no match for the album's first tracks, so the title remains the most noticeable aspect of it. "I Was a Teenage Hand Model" also has a great title, but during this song, the presence of weird noises, pummelling percussion and directionless noodling are confused with inspired song-writing. But, at least 2/3 of the album is really good. The combination of hypnotic rhythms and riffs on the one hand, and a relaxed jam-atmosphere on the other hand, makes for a great combination. Add to that Homme's original delivery and the album's warm sound, and you'll realize you're dealing with a prime slab of sun-baked rawk that made sure the attentive listener realized he was dealing with one of the most promising bands of the dusk of the 20th century.

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