Now, in 2005, Queens of the Stone Age is back with a new lineup, and we all say goodbye to Nick Oliveri, Dave Grohl and Mark Lanegan (though the latter does contribute on occasion).
Lullabies to Paralyze comes off like an art-rock soundtrack to the scariest fantasies of C.S. Lewis, Clive Barker, Dean Koontz, Lewis Carrol and Neil Gaiman. You know, the kind of stories that are ostensibly for kids, but still scare the quicksand out of the grown-ups. As if the musical metaphor could be lost on anyone, deluxe (DVD Extra) editions are bound like a "Little Golden Book" and actually include a surreal illustrated story book. From the opening salvo of special guest Mark Lanegan singing "This Lullaby" (sounding like a cross between Tom Waits and Johnny Cash) to the long, slow goodbye of "Long Slow Goodbye", this album is a Trip (both literally and figuratively).
While the packaging and tone may give the impression of a "Concept Album", Lullabies to Paralyze isn't a telling of a consistent story, but multiple riffs on similar dark themes. However, what's most interesting here is how Homme still never feels too big for his britches, pulling out all the stops of the punk, rock-a-billy and desert rock that has been his bread, butter and release since 1990. You'll hear more "Oooh-Oooh-Ooohs" and rhythmic "Buh-ba-baaaaaaas" here than on a Bee-Gees record. The difference? These are never used as a crutch, and function as a graceful, yet down-to-Earth compliment to QOTSA's rich music. Lyrics like "I hate to see you leave but I love to watch you go, Bay-Bay" and "I have been lost down every road I've followed" also lend an almost Trailer Park at sunset AM Radio realism to the orchestrations as well, showing that while Songs for the Deaf may have made him a "Rock Star", Homme is still that guitar picker from Palm Desert.
Still, Queens of the Stone Age is fairly called Musician's Music, because it is so full and rich that it could conceivably work instrumentally, with Homme's guitar taking fully over for his voice (luckily the kid can sing too). Much of the heavy metal pounding can still be found on the album, though even in the heaviest moments the listener is granted multiple strands of musical accompaniment, adding more layers than an Alaskan jogger. Take a listen to "I Never Came" in the dead center of the album. While, at first listen, just another Homme on Falsetto plaintive poem... listen closer! From the opening Urge Overkill reminiscent guitar and drum intro, we're given branches of light as more and more instruments subtly join the fray in a full orchestration that composer Henryk Gorecki would be proud of. "I Never Came" isn't alone, either, as L2P is packed with songs that beg to be listened to multiple times. You won't be bored as you hear deeper layers you missed the first few times.
The Desert Session near-classic "In My Head" is given big-production treatment, and mostly for the better. Fans of the Desert Sessions (and I am one) might still be flipping a coin over which version floats their boat with better buoyancy, but this critic would rather have the choice! In short, it's all good, bra! "Broken Box" and "'You got a Killer Scene there, man...'" prove that Oliveri didn't take QOTSA's sense of humor with him when he left, while "Someone's in the Wolf" and "Medication" show that the depth and discomfort of QOTSA is still here at its brilliant best. Special mention must be given to "Burn the Witch", a creepy, bluesy thudder that features vocals and guitar by none other than Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. What an endorsement for Homme that one of the most underrated rock legends ever threw in a few cents of his own.
But where, you ask, is my Single, like SFTD's "Go With The Flow"? For this Band, I won't even call it a sell-out, because the Singles are better than most bands' AOR tracks. Regardless, look no further than the clean driving progression of "Little Sister", both an artistic and a street-level classic rolled in one!
And, O my Brothers, this all can primarily be laid squarely at the feet of Mr. Homme himself. That's not to minimize the contributions of Al, Troy or Joey, by any means. However, those who would equate Nick and Josh as Lennon and McCartney or as Mick and Keith, need only to take a sniff at L2P to see what the real case is. Is Homme the next Pete Townshend? Far be it from me to hang such an albatross around the poor man's neck. All I can say is, let's see how QOTSA sounds to our ears in about 30 or 40 years... until then, let's leave the comparisons to the hacks.
Even without the Oliveri/Homme collaboration, and with the uniqueness of Lullabies to Paralyze, some of the coolest QOTSA motifs rear their heads in the occasional self-reference, such as "Medication"'s heart-beat opening, so similar to the opening of "Feel Good Hit of the Summer" from R. In short, as original and new as L2P is, there is still proof that Homme isn't bothering with constantly re-inventing himself. Instead, what we're hearing is the next great evolution from Joshua Homme, who brings order to chaos. Lullabies to Paralyze might not make the Mint that Songs for the Deaf did, but Homme has shown again that the green isn't the goal here, and he feels no need to prove himself to the record company or the rock critics.
It's all a blend of unique rock that melds the surreal and sublime with the down-home and serious. This is canonical American rock, like Songs for the Deaf before it, and will be referenced in years to come as a hell of a hard-hitting influence, no matter how many units are sold. Four and One Half Stars out of Five for Lullabies to Paralyze by Queens of the Stone Age. This is probably the best, and least categorical band out there, and is consistently satisfying in its complexity and diversity. From their multi-layered and Frank Black-esqe Western Rock to their surrealistic, detached poetry to their almost Kill Bill Desert Soundrack effects, this is indie rock at its best. So until Kyuss sparks out a Reunion Tour that culminates in an Axe battle between Nick and Josh that would make Obi-Wan and Darth Maul Jealous... I'll see you in the next reel, sparky! (Special thanks for this review go to mi amigo premier, Jeff Brown!)
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