Friday, 14 March 2014

Queens of the Stone Age

It started for me, as is often the case, a little after the event. The event being the arrival of and the first album by Queens of the Stone Age. It came with a pneumatic hammer drill pounding out a slab of sound repetitively like concrete blocks cracking against each other. Solid. Substantial. Hard. Hydraulic.

"Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol

Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol

Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol

Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, Marijuana, Ecstasy and Alcohol

C-cocaine, c-cocaine
C-cocaine, c-cocaine"

Attention was grabbed rather than asked for. Two stereophonic fists took hold of my throat and thrust my head against the radio. It was 2000. It was the new century and here was music to slam dunk you into it. Brash. Brazen. Amphoteric. Efficacious.

It came from the bands second album 'Rated R' which was released the same year and which I played over and over. Heavy Metal as an axe to the grindstone. American Rock with a capital R. The capital R from the album perhaps. I had no idea what Rated R meant. All I knew as a Brit was that it should be rated X. X marks the spot. X is a kiss. A kiss for the favour.

Here was Rock being played as Rock should be. Fast and mean. Lean and muscular. Taut as a hangman's rope. Sharp as an executioner's blade. An axe from an axe wielding band. Bless the saints and all the stars for Josh Homme. Americana? You'd better believe it. A Corvette chasing the sun down Ventura Route 101. A Mustang kicking sand along the Mojave Interstate 15.

This was pumped up punk meets steel wheeled metal. It thrashed but wasn't trash. It was Ray Bans as worn by Jack Nicholson riding a Harley. It was the dogs bollocks.

Queens of the Stone Age Announce New Album, Preview New Music, Sign to Matador

Tungsten. Titanium. Tensile. Adamantium.
Crushing while cruising. Music that shook me where I wanted to be shaken - by the roots. From my heart via my head to the tips of my boots. Queens of the Stone Age, unbeknown to me, had already released one album. Their first was eponymously titled. It was sandblasted driving music. Dry as bleached bones left in the harsh terrain of the Mojave desert. Skeletal and hollow. Its meat was stripped bare by large riffs fired like excocetes. A wasteland of rubble lacking anything but the heated substance, a barren landscape. It was magnificent.
"There's a robotic element to our albums, like the repetition of riffs. We also wanted to do a record that had a lot of dynamic range. We wanted to set it up in this band so we could play anything. We don't want to get roped in by our own music. If anyone has a good song (regardless of style) we should be able to play it." - Josh Homme.
It was a grinding sound as of gears clunking against cogs. Ferrous but oiled. Hot Rod motorhead, monkey wrench and axle grease. More was to follow and follow it did. A grumble of machine parts. A symphony in steel - a concept album.

From Los Angeles to the Joshua Tree. Boulder riven, dustbowl dry, harrowing power chunk chords, abrasive as steel wool, knot the fauna and landscape by a sly deceit of a radio broadcast  This connects the drive to countryside via the conduit of the music.

But, I hear you cry, did concept albums not go out of fashion after the punk explosion? Indeed so but no one seems to have told the band and even if they had the guys had cocked a deaf-un.

Having recruited the indomitable Dave Grohl was a stroke of sheer brilliance. A man who drummed for one of THE great bands and who then, following Cobain's death, formed the multi-million selling Foo Fighters has to be admired. His drumming adds a power that matches the songs thrust. Like thunder in the heavens, it sets the foundations as a solid mass for the guitars to rise in combat against. The single, 'No One Knows' reached for the cosmos and bagged some stars. As singles go, and this was one of those. Pulverising guitar meets sweet melodic content. Serious stuff.

As concept albums go, and there have been as many good as there have bad, 'Songs For the Dead' truly stands out among the best.

For many bands, having so swiftly ascended such lofty heights, they would simply freewheel into the next obligatory album with the middle finger raised in mute defiance. Well, perhaps the finger was flipped, the attitude remaining much the same as on day one, album one, but that burning heart, that creative solar sat bright at the band's heart. It's furnace stoked to white light intensity. The Queens of the Stone Age poured kerosene onto the flames.

The drive was still there. Undiminished, hungry. Misfortune reared its ugly head. Members suffered ill health, some left, some took on other roles within the band. Change, both welcome and unwelcome occurred. Josh Homme underwent surgery, flat-lined and was revived. Four months spent laying in a room with the world chasing stars. Time passed and with it, those changes formulated in secret shadows. After a pause of three years (who cares in the scheme of things?) the band got together to record their sixth album.

It pummelled long waiting for fans senses. It pile drove into our consciousness gaining both critical acclaim and commercial success. The album was nominated for two awards - both of them Grammys. Whatever primordial force it is that propels the band on, ever on, the fuel was back in the tank and was five star.

There has always been an edgy feel to the band's work, a sense of imminent danger about to explode. Chords crunch, bass-lines bruise, drums pound. With this though the colours were somehow darker, more menacing. The threat of something unpleasant wriggling free of the sound and penetrating your skull was unbelievably real.

Most bands have a limited shelf life. Some don't recognise that fact.  However long QOTSA will last is anyone's guess but I, not used to gambling, would lay odds on them being around for a long while yet.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog