California Band Follows Breakthrough Album
Whether it’s the Beatles or U2 or Dexy’s Midnight Runners, every band has a unique chemistry. Alter one of the ingredients and you’re changing the cocktail.
It’s often tempting for irreconcilable bandmates — trapped together in the sometimes claustrophobic confines of the tour bus or recording studio — to fantasize about replacing one another. Unfortunately for them, music history is littered with the carcasses of bands’ whose career swiftly collapsed when they dismissed a member. Very often, it’s a sign that the end is near.
The changes were dramatic. Where the Queens was once a three-headed heavy rock hydra with band leader/guitarist Josh Homme, mercurial bassist Nick Oliveri, and grizzly-throated singer Mark Lanegan (formerly of Seattle’s Screaming Trees) each passing the front position around, Homme was the only one left standing when the smoke cleared. (Oliveri was unceremoniously given the boot and Lanegan simultaneously announced plans to concentrate on his solo career.)
It’s understandable to think this musical coup would signal the Queens are in trouble, but such projections might seem premature given the headbanging-worthiness of several songs on their new record, “Lullabies To Paralyze.” To be fair, however, the record isn’t the flop that ex-bandmates might have hoped for, but nor does it hide the fact that the lineup changes have clearly sapped their strength.
Although Lanegan was coaxed back to morosely intone the album’s sea-shanty opener “Lullaby,” Homme is so much the musical focus now that it would be hard to distinguish “Lullabies To Paralyze” from a Homme solo album, except that Queens have always revolved in his orbit to varying degrees.
“Lullabies To Paralyze” is new direction for the band, a trajectory that Homme has argued in interviews that band was intended to follow since their first, self-titled album (Oliveri joined before that record’s completion, but Homme handled all the record’s vocal chores). Over their next two records, Homme shared the spotlight with Oliveri and Lanegan, both to great effect. Now without the musical counterpoints of Oliveri’s adrenaline-filled, punkish howling or Lanegan’s dark crooning, Homme guides the music squarely to fit his forte: slightly quirky heavy rock.
Songs like “Tangled Up In Plaid,” “Medication,” and “In My Head” roar with Homme’s slippery, laconic vocals and sterling guitar lines playing the pied piper. The songs are as concise and radio-friendly and yet oddly idiosyncratic as the tracks from “Songs Of The Deaf.”
Less successful is “Burn The Witch.” Featuring a guest appearance by ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons, the song’s monotonous, fuzz-heavy, blues stomp drags on for three-minutes that never end soon enough. Similarly, “Skin On Skin” comes across as insanely repetitive and the absence of any hint of a likeable melody will surely leave listeners wondering what the next song is.
And while Homme’s voice is still a unique (read: interesting) listen in the era in which most hard rock singers are consumed with the machismo of singing (either they are Robert Plane clones who constantly bust a gut or they are so stilted that they deliver only a manly bark into the mic).
“Lullabies” makes plain this fact: Queens of the Stone Age are a different band now. They’re Homme’s group now and there’s no turning back.
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Note: David’s nationally syndicated music column, Soundbytes, appeared in the Entertainment section of all Internet Broadcasting websites. This column was originally published there.
©Copyright 2005 by David Hyland. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.