Queens Of The Stone Age - Queens Of The Stone Age
Although Queens of the Stone Age’s debut record was originally touted as a group effort upon its release in 1998, it stands today as the closest example of how a Josh Homme solo album could be expected to sound. While Homme has unquestionably been Queens’ driving creative force from its outset, not to mention its only constant member, the group’s subsequent albums feel much more like collaborative efforts than their first. Contributions from Queens’ extended circle of friends including the manic, demented energy of Nick Oliveri on Rated R and Songs for the Deaf, dark and gravelly vocals from Mark Lanegan on various outings, and instrumental appearances by Dave Grohl and Billy Gibbons, have forced Homme to share the spotlight on every Queens effort but its first. And although the collaboration-heavy albums are among the best hard rock efforts of the past ten years, the recently-reissued Queens debut drives home Homme’s individual talents as a songwriter and musician.
It makes sense that QOTSA’s debut sounds like a Homme solo record, as it marks his definitive shift in approach and tone from Kyuss sideman to establishing his role as lead Queen. While both bands draw on the barren qualities of the California desert by allotting a great deal of space to their respective hard rock approaches, Queens’ debut relies less on the heavily distorted crunch of Kyuss in favour of spacey, semi-psychedelic riffs and serpentine guitar solos. Moreover, Homme’s alternation between laid-back murmurs and his higher-register delivery are a marked departure from the paint-stripping vocals provided by John Garcia in Kyuss. Taken altogether, this record perhaps stands as the best testament to Homme’s assertion that the Queens make robot rock (as opposed to the blanket-genre stoner rock) with math and repetition driving songs like the three note riff at the heart of ‘You Would Know.’ ‘Hispanic Impressions’ begins with the same sort of mechanical precision with its underlying riff, gradually breaking down as increasingly frenzied guitar lines take over. The more conventionally structured verse-chorus-verse rock songs like ‘Regular John’ and ‘If Only’ still serve as departures from the heavy stoner drone, building compelling and unique riffs around largely understated rhythm playing and abetted by Homme’s lead lines. Although the Queens are now known as consistent producers of their particular brand of high-quality, off-kilter hard rock, this album serves as a testament to how they strongly they started out of the gate.
The inclusion of three b-sides originally released contemporaneously with the debut are included at in the album’s playlist rather than being tacked onto the end as bonus material, providing an excellent impetus to revisit the album in a slightly altered state. ‘The Bronze,’ which originally appeared on a split single with the Dutch band Beaver, serves as an early highlight in the band’s career. Propelled by a two-chord riff and complemented by Homme’s unique lead guitar style, the song highlights the Queens’ ability to make minimalism sound huge (and features solos that rank right up there with the best Homme has recorded). ‘These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For,’ which appeared on the same split single, is similarly minimal, weaving wandering guitar lines over a repetitious parabola of a bass-line the steadily rises and falls, eventually falling off the rails in much the same way as ‘Hispanic Impressions.’ The Eastern-European death march of ‘Spiders and Vinegaroons’ is the final b-side offering, and originally appeared on a Kyuss / Queens split single. The three b-sides are at least as good as anything else on the album (‘The Bronze’ is a strong candidate for the record’s zenith) and their incorporation into the album is seamless and improves upon the original product.
Queens of the Stone Age’s self-titled debut remains an important entry in their discography that has aged well and remains vital. Any fans that came in on the strength of ‘No One Knows’ are advised to go back and investigate the first days of the group. Likewise, the incorporation of the three killer b-sides into the original tracklist should be enough for prompt diehards to return to the well and revisit an album whose importance has been neglected to a certain extent despite the band’s later success.
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