Queens of the Stone Age
Lullabies to Paralyze
Since their semi-official kickoff in 1998, Queens of the Stone Age have plowed through a bevy of peripheral players, some famous (Dave Grohl gripped sticks for 2002's Songs for the Deaf, and Screaming Trees vocalist/solo act Mark Lanegan stood in as touring frontman last year), and some lesser-known. (Members of Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Soundgarden, and A Perfect Circle have all slipped in and out of the collective.) Still, the looseness of the band's lineup has never significantly altered its sound: The Queens' reigning aesthetic-- droning, riff-heavy rock peppered with vaguely cosmic flourishes-- has been fiercely maintained by core members Josh Homme (vocals, guitar) and Nick Oliveri (bass, snarls).
Scrutinizing and compartmentalizing the internal chemistry of rock bands may be a thankless (if not stupid) pursuit, but when Oliveri was publicly ejected from the band in early 2004 (ousted by Homme, who disapproved of certain "bad behavior"), the future of the Queens' swampy rock seemed awfully precarious. But any lingering doubts about who was actually commanding the band's direction should soon dissipate: Lullabies to Paralyze is, at least stylistically, not terribly different from the three Queens records preceding it.
Now rallying the contributions of bassist Alain Johannes, drummer Joey Castillo (ex-Danzig), and multi-instrumentalist Troy Van Leeuwen (formerly of Failure, currently in A Perfect Circle)-- while snatching guest turns from ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, Garbage's Shirley Manson, and the Distillers' Brody Dalle (who sing together for a barely-audible 10 seconds)-- Homme is hardly playing alone. Still, even with all that sweaty support, Lullabies to Paralyze can feel vaguely alienating, often twisting itself into an unsociable and determinably distant collection of hazy, leaden rock. Maybe because of Oliveri's absence, Homme seems slightly more guarded, and his breathy falsetto and tinny guitar tones are now more cagey than jubilant, mixed low and perpetually retreating. Homme has always had a habit of slathering most everything with a few too many multi-tracked drone effects, all ghostly echoes and over-dramatized coos, and, unsurprisingly, Lullabies is most successful at its most brash.
Homme clearly digs a good giggle (see the handclap-riddled, "I hate rock'n'roll!" musing of "'You've Got a Killer Scene There, Man...'"), but he's even more of a sucker for proggy chops and dry ice-fueled metal theatrics. Unsurprisingly, Grimm's Fairy Tales are often cited as a significant influence on Homme's songwriting, and the dark, no-shit didacticism of those cautionary fables is recreated flawlessly-- the plodding (and awkwardly misogynistic) "Everybody Knows That You Are Insane" indicts relentlessly, (ill)advising without coddling, thrashing itself into oblivion.
The excellent "I Never Came" opens with twitchy drums and muffled bass thumps, unfurling slowly and majestically and exploding into a thick, heady swirl of high, airy vocals and guitar theatrics, while the equally impressive "The Blood Is Love" swallows a spinning, carnival-esque melody, layering pert metal chords over a meandering and ethereal guitar line (reminiscent of 2000's R). Single "Little Sister" is all cowbell and sneering vocals, flirting with but never quite indulging pop perkiness, a honking guitar riff shooting through like a punchline, while "Tangled Up in Plaid" is impossibly addictive (flitting from spare, echoing verses to a raucous, wind-milling chorus-- not entirely unlike former single "No One Knows").
Lullabies occasionally evokes early Black Sabbath and nods to a few psych-rock stalwarts but, like most Queens' records, it's oddly unclassifiable. It's also troublingly inconsistent, sagging and losing steam (opener "This Lullaby" and the plodding, seven-minute guitar jerk of "Someone's in the Wolf" are unimpressively limp)-- all sprints and breath-catching, highs and lows. Ultimately, Lullabies to Paralyze stands as a frantic, steamrolling realization-- dynamic, twitchy, and anchored by Homme's uncompromising vision.
-Amanda Petrusich, March 21, 2005