Sunday, August 8, 2010

Queens of the Stone Age - Rated R (Deluxe Reissue)

Some artists have a unique talent for attitude, an intrinsic charisma that often is both natural and ludicrous. Elvis gave it a name. The Rolling Stones gave it a dark sexuality. In the modern era, this attitude is embodied in Queens of the Stone Age, the eclectic modern rock act spawned from the ashes of desert metal gods Kyuss. Fronted by ex-members Josh Homme and Nick Oliveri, Queens have managed to isolate the most focused aspects of their former band while introducing a sense of humor that was seriously lacking with Kyuss. Queens, the result of this experiment in facecrushing rock, have managed to create something original and consistently excellent in a career that saw a musical high point in 2000's "Rated R."

The most immediately noticeable trait of "Rated R" is its incredible ability to party. The opener, "Feel Good Hit of the Summer," consists entirely of Homme singing a laundry list of narcotics over a dense mix of power chords and chest-thumping bass. "Nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol.....c-c-c-c-c-cocaaiiine!!!" says Homme. Ok, so on the subtlety scale, this one earns about a negative pile of turds. But then, Queens have never been about subtlety, preferring instead to slap you in the face while shouting vague innuendos in your ear. This tactic is surprisingly effective, and chances are it won't bother most listeners.

But Homme doesn't really seem content with stating the obvious. The following standout track, "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret," finds him in total command of his own mystery, daring the listener, "Leap of faith, do you doubt?/ Cut you in, I just cut you out." The deceptive sweetness of the chimes that echo throughout the song only serves to shock when Homme's distorted guitar roars into the chorus under his oddly charming falsetto. The album is filled with brilliant moments like this; the hand-drum intro of "Better Living Through Chemistry" and the Nick Oliveri's terrifying howl in "Tension Head" are two more examples. The former is dominated by the creep of Oliveri's twisting, sliding bassline, which stands out as one of the album's best musical statements and its most unshakable earworm. Likewise, "Tension Head" rides a vicious guitar riff from Homme into Oliveri's animalistic shriek, extolling the virtues and vices of the hard-partying lifestyle for which the bassist was later fired from the band. It's this interplay between Homme and Oliveri that makes "Rated R" so successful as a whole. Homme provides a laid-back, intriguing charm that is both tempered and enhanced by the downright sleaze of Oliveri's vocal chaos.

Though Queens has continued to rock after Oliveri's departure, their raw edge has been a little tempered in later releases. Fortunately, this year's reissue of "Rated R" contains an extra helping of the Queens in their absolute prime. Five unreleased tracks have been included, highlighted by the Carly Simon parody "You're So Vague" and the pounding thrash of "Born to Hula." Even better are the ten live tracks included on the album's second disc, mostly derived from the band's performance at the 2000 Reading Festival. The set contains a few of the album's best, executed in a searing fashion that should make any fan desperately crave for some tour dates. Closing out the live material is a rendition of "Millionaire," a song from on of Homme's side projects that would be recorded for the next Queens album. It stands as arguably their best song, and it's fascinating to hear it live before it was recorded in 2002. Less facemelting but equally amusing are Homme's antics throughout the set, during which he tells the crowd several times, "This is a song for you!"

Overall, "Rated R" deserves the deluxe treatment, and it is well served by the chosen bonus material. Submit yourself to "Rated R"'s distorted heat, and you'll be dazzled by its desert thunder. By the end, you undoubtedly will find yourself echoing Oliveri and Homme in the set's closer with an eager, if less throat-shredding cry: "This one's down.../Give me some more!"

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