ueens Of The Stone Age rock harder than a caveman’s house. And they’re not afraid to show it.
Songs for the Deaf is hard and heavy and brutal. Dusty and hot and long, like a roadtrip to hell where the radio auto-tunes to whatever’s heaviest (and that’s always QOTSA), it’s the sound of someone flexing muscle and casting doubt. “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” sidles up alongside you slowly, like someone playing guitar down a tin can and a piece of string, before it suddenly urges forward and fucks you senseless, stop, start, stop, start, stop again.
Now numbering four ‘official’ members (Josh Homme, Nick Oliveri, Mark Lanegan and Dave Grohl) as well as the usual rotating rag-tag band of stoner-rock journeymen, QOTSA are bordering on Super Group status. Except they’re not crap. Grohl’s first post-Nirvana tour of duty as a pure sticksman almost makes you wish he’d sack the day job, his rambunctious percussion pushing the Queens’ dread thunder further into brilliance. But the mood is not one of back-slapping indulgence and self-congratulation. Lanegan’s whisky-and-tobacco-scarred vocals, now pushed to the fore with greater frequency, typify the downbeat mood of oppressive melancholia that slowly saturates Songs for the Deaf from the bottom up. The melodies and hooks are still there, but they’re sun-burnt and begrudging. There’s no room for narcotic pop frivolity here, the tone closer to the end-of-the-road heavy blues of Dust by Lanegan’s old band Screaming Trees than the drug-fuelled orgy of QOTSA’s Rated R.
Despite its darkness, Songs for the Deaf is still a sublime, illicit thrill. Like dirty midnight sex in a badly-lit carpark, you know it’s bad, you know other thing’s are more fulfilling or moving, but we all secretly crave the excitement, the danger, wish we had the necessary guile. Stop/start dynamics jolt you from the start, heavy stoner jams like “A Song For The Dead” and “God Is In Your Radio” wearing you down into submission with heavy-as-lead psychedelic blues grooves, while psychotic asides like Oliveri’s typically animal “Six Shooter” fire into your head like electric shock therapy. “No One Knows” is the closest thing to a radio-friendly unit-shifter, but even that slowly reveals itself as a tired, fateful rumination on misinformation and thoughtless process – “we get these pills to swallow / don’t they stick / in your throat...”, Homme sounding weary and resigned despite the jolting, energising tempo.
All the main suspects involved in QOTSA have now been plying their trades for years and are at the top of their games. This is heavy metal for grown-ups, far removed from Blink’s cartoon punk or Puddle Of Mud’s necrophiliac AM-radio grunge. Queens Of The Stone Age are the greatest heavy rock band on the face of the planet and soon everyone will know it.