Queens of the Stone Age – ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ Album Review

This was actually harder than I thought. Being a rerelease of an album I love, and have loved for the  better part of the last 12 years, this should have been easy (I’m not quite cool enough to have bought it at point of release. THAT I will admit to. Anything else is a scurrilous rumour).

The hardest bit was not going on and on and on about a) how I found QotSA, b) how awesome Kyuss were, QotSA are (but in a different way) and how the two are connected, and c) some bullshit theory about how debut albums work.

Basically, it was a load of stuff that was pretty fun to write, but really wasn’t all that interesting to read.

The sort of thing I normally inflict on friends and family, because they HAVE to listen to my random bursts of (self-perceived) intellectual and critical brilliance.

To save time, most of what I wrote previously can boil down to:

1)      There used to be a band called ‘Kyuss’. They ruled and all was good in the land.

2)      They split, and dragons returned to claim the Earth as their own. This was bad.

3)      Queens of the Stone formed from the ashes and chased away the scary lizards. This too was good.

4)      Debut albums are a tricky subject and don’t really follow any set pattern of rules.

So, yeah, ‘Queens of the Stone Age’: the album. It was an odd album, by an odd band. It took a while to get into initially; but right now it’s up there in the 5 albums I’ve listened to the most. I know every note, word, mistake, and scratch (on my copy at least) on this album. If I had an ounce of musical talent, I could probably replicate this album from memory.

But I don’t, so I can’t.

When bands release a ‘re-mastered’ copy of a classic album, it normally means a) identikit copy of original version (normally something pointless, like putting everything on ’11’ so it sounds more impressive) and b) additional tracks you don’t want to hear (remixes, live tracks, early and inept attempts at a classic song), stuck on a ‘bonus’ disc or nicely bolted on to the end of album so you’ll only ever listen to them once. After you buy three or four of these re-masters, you start to wonder exactly why you keep falling for this – the only tangible benefit seems to be a ‘virgin’ copy with no scratches.

This is NOT one of those cynical wastes of time, money and precious petrochemical resource.

THIS is a new take on a seminal album, from one of the most interesting and exciting bands of the last 15 years – probably longer. Although, actually, not THAT much longer: the early nineties were full of bands as cool as Queens, but none of them released an album as good as any of the first 3 QotSA albums.

I say ‘a new take’ because it is a new album, of sorts. I’ll get the usual stuff out of the way now – there’s been some studio trickery. Not your USUAL trickery as it’s not ALL on eleven, but some things that used to be WAY down in the mix are now way up or off to one side, and some things have been scaled back.  To begin with, it’s something that really stands out, but it then occurs to you that this is how they are played NOW.  Most Queens songs have evolved in the live arena (‘Regular John’ in particular has clocked in at over 10 minutes), and it’s natural that they’ll change over time. Kyuss split because they couldn’t evolve, so it was only to be expected that QotSA would never stand still.

Or play fair.

As I said – I KNOW this album. Not only does it now SOUND different, the running order is different. Extra tracks from the Split EP’s with Kyuss and Beaver have been inserted INTO the track-listing, so while you may be coming to the end of ‘You Would Know’ and expecting ‘How to Handle a Rope’, you NOW get ‘The Bronze’ first.  It throws you and you can almost see a pre-millenial Josh smirking at the mischief his 2011 self will be getting up to.

This happens again with ‘These Aren’t the Droids You’re Looking For’ and ‘Spiders and Vinegaroons’.

This messes with you for the whole album – you are no longer comfortable. You no longer know what to expect. The element of danger which would become a signature QOTSA staple is given a fresh twist by fucking with your sense of familiarity. This used to be a pretty decent collection of off-kilter rock songs. It’s now been given structure. It now has a narrative. Albeit a pretty messed up one.

So, while ‘Songs for the Deaf’ took the idea of an evening trek into the sort of lunacy you find at midnight in the desert, it kind of felt like a one way trip – there was no coming back from Natasha Shnieder and the mosquitos, this one now appears to begin with the rock n roll staples of sex n drugs, and ends up alone in the sand, covered in bugs, before coming to in a toilet somewhere with a garbled voicemail message from Nick Oliveri (you know those shacks built by madmen that only seem to exist in the Arizona desert, you may well have ended up in one of those).

But the underlying idea here is that next week it’ll be a different girl and a different species of insect or arachnid, but you’ll go off and do it all again and again.

The original ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ might always have been a play on the madness and paranoia that comes from unrequited lust and prescription medicine, but somewhere along the line that message got lost.  This shiny disc of sandy awesome has now put the message back.

Or may be found a new one.

Who knows.

What is important is it finally happened.

A reissue finally came out, which wasn’t a total rip-off (or even a partial one, for that matter) and won’t look all that strange sitting next to the original version.

And here’s why – think of your favourite black and white film.  Now imagine that you’re seeing it for the first time in glowing colour.

And Bruce Campbell is now the lead.

This wasn’t Queens of the Stone Age’s best album. The next two after this one are modern masterpieces. This release hasn’t changed the order at the finishing post, but it’s now a much closer race.

And the disc itself has a picture of a naked chick on it – you gotta mention something like that.

‘Queens of the Stone Age’ is out now on Domino Records

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1 comment

  1. phil March 23, 2011 7:55 pm  Reply

    James’ reviews are always inspirational but on this particular release I wanted to speak up because his review was so eloquent it sent me scurrying out to buy a copy of the re-release. Like James I know this record more or less like I know the back of my hand, possibly better because one can never account for all those unaccounted for ink marks and the like that appear on a hand, but the reissue is a revelation. Heavier, sonically different and with a few bonus tracks that my or not appeal to the casual fan the work that has gone into clearing up the sound of a record that I love but which, arguably, suffered from a rather thin sound the first time out, is immense and well worth a second purchase. Cheers James – I’ve rediscovered an old friend!

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