Josh Homme: “…The world is round/My square don’t fit at all…”

Queens of the Stone Age
Era Vulgaris
Interscope
Released 6.12.07

Rating: 8 out of 10

Author’s Note: This write-up was born out of a discussion with my brother, a die-hard fan, upon first listen of Era Vulgaris. Some of his observations on the album made their way into my review, most notably the opinions related to the song, “Make It Wit Chu.”

Right now I’m really wired on coffee and my attempts at diluting the effects with water have been worthless, despite the fact that I’m on my third fucking bottle. I’ll blame the music. I’ve been listening to Era Vulgaris all day with intense concentration because it’s the only album that I’ve really been looking forward to all year.

Anyone reading this may wonder what it is about the Queens of the Stone Age that I find so captivating and important in regards to mainstream rock n’ roll. Simply put, QOTSA is the only reason mainstream rock n’ roll is alive. Keep in mind while I boldly make overreaching statements like this that I’m not including any underground or independent music scenes. I’m speaking in terms of radio, NOW radio, and saying without any hesitation that Josh Homme is the guy worth paying attention to, even if all the accessible rock print these days is reserved for wiping Jack White’s overly-kissed peppermint eye. There’s no gimmick in play here. No charming aesthetics or nostalgic reminiscence of some bygone era. Homme plays rock n’ roll that belongs in THIS era with a zero-bullshit factor that screams, “Hey, man…I’m just making music.” I won’t be TIME magazine about it and call him the “future” of rock music, but I will definitely call him the “present,” and I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who stretches the brittle boundaries of the MTV attention span as much as he does.

Having said all that, I’ll admit that Era Vulgaris, the fifith full-length from Homme and his consistently inconsistent line-up, is not my favorite of their albums. But, his mission has essentially been to not write the same album over and over again while maintaining the band’s overall identity, essence and experimental nuance that subtly weave through every song like sonic thread. With Lullabies to Paralyze, QOTSA lightened their hardest elements but expanded on the intellectual ones, creating a beautifully haunting and eerie album that shouldn’t have been as good as it was, and probably wasn’t in some people’s vapid estimations. Vulgaris capitalizes on the Lullabies aesthetic, but gives it a rougher edge and accentuates its rhythm. Homme is mostly meant to accent. Drummer, Joey Castillo, is the main focus here as every track clings itself to the rhythm section. Atmospherically, Lullabies probably triumphs over Vulgaris, and that may have something to do with the fact that this is their most stripped line-up since QOTSA’s debut album. Not many guests are featured here and, when they are, it's fairly inconsequential (which is okay, especially with Julian Casablancas’s involvement). But, there’re enough newly hatched ideas and straight-ahead rock moments to keep the record clinging to those lucky eardrums.

The opening riffs on “Turning On The Screw” sound like they’re played with a violin bow. Laid back, but assaulting, Homme’s harmonies sound slightly more alto than usual as the synthesized buzz and six-string howl carry the track into unexpected territory, ultimately leading you into the album’s first rock-as-fuck single, “Sick, Sick, Sick.”

”My generations for sale/It’s a steady job/How much have you got?” inquires Homme in falsetto before offering “Counter proposal: I go home and jerk-off” in the amusing, “I’m Designer,” a track that juxtaposes raw garage riffs with an adeptly conceived hook. Homme’s lyrical wit also plays in “Misfit Love” wear he notes, ”Transforming is becoming/Transforming is becoming…on me” over a fuzzed bass and tom-heavy backdrop.

Keeping up with the high dose of rhythm and hard rock, “Battery Acid” pounds along before breaking into harmonic strings for the song’s bridge, changing things up just enough so as not to bore. Second single, “3’s & 7’s,” similarly plays with time changes, but more often, leading me to believe that this song won’t last too long on the airwaves without some casual radio-listener going “HUH?”

Getting away from the hard rock and humor, “Into The Hollow” and Mark Lanegan-accompanied “River In The Road” break into emotional territory while Castillo steps up his game, establishing an interesting backbeat to some otherwise straight-forward songwriting.

“Suture Up Your Future” is one of the best songs Homme has ever committed to tape, exploring a musical avenue they haven’t really touched since maybe “In The Fade.” The notes are just perfect. Homme’s voice beautifully carries the song through to its cymbal-heavy hooks before it splits into a cacophonous guitar/drum storm, ending in then in an isolated wave of dissonant strings. It’s a beautiful track.

Ending the album, “Run Pig Run,” revisits “Song For The Deaf” territory, beating the life out of the drums and carpel tunneling its way to string-bending fury.

The inclusion of rehashed Desert Sessions track, “Make It Wit Chu,” is the only time a track feels out of place. In instances where Desert Sessions tracks were clearly improved upon, as were Songs For The Deaf’s “Hangin’ Tree” and Lullabies’s “In My Head,” it made more sense. “Make It Wit Chu,” aside from a couple solo notes being rethought, is essentially the same and winds up acting more as filler. Plus, it breaks the album’s flow. While listening to this with my brother, we both sort of forgot what we were listening to once “Make It Wit Chu” presented itself despite having heard the song a million times.

To be honest, even if QOTSA put out a piece of shit, I’d still try and sell the band to anyone willing to listen. Speaking critically, yeah Era Vulgaris doesn’t quite live up to past albums. However, as with all their albums, QOTSA refuse to shy away from risks and convey a genuine desire to do something different. Few bands can do what QOTSA does and maintain such a strong foothold in both mainstream AND underground channels, which only means that they are the real thing. Not that it matters what I say: The White Stripes have a new album coming out in less than a week.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead
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