5 Songs from the Queens of the Stone Age

In the post alternative age, some bands have risen to dominate the scene with their own brand of guitar driven rock. The Queens of the Stone Age are of course one of those bands, rising from the remains of stoner metal band Kyuss and really gaining some mainstream steam after a collaboration with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters (although they easily would have gotten to the same point on their own as well). This band became one of my favorites relatively quickly because their sound is so unique. Channeling bits of Black Sabbath, ZZ Top and the underground stoner metal scene, to create something completely identifiable, they continue to impress me with every new release.

I don't think the Queens of the Stone Age really need my help gaining fans, as their music has always been firmly in the realm of "either you get it and love it or you don't and hate it". Still, I figure there are at least a few people out there who might have dismissed this band as either another garage rock band trying to ride the coat tails of the White Stripes, Black Sabbath wannabes or another progressive metal band with no real depth to their songs. I assure you, the Queens are none of those things, and to prove it I'm going to look at one of my favorite songs from each of their albums.

I can't remember what singles were released from each album, but I know I stayed away from the major ones, aka "No One Knows" and "Little Sister". Those are great songs in their own right, but these ones are just as good, if not better in my opinion.

1: "If Only" from Queens of the Stone Age
From the band's now much overlooked debut, this song has a great riff, just a slight touch of the swagger that is part of so many of their later works, a catchy chorus and some killer lead guitar work. Overall, I'd call it great rock and roll through and through. I'm especially fond of the guitar work, which is twisted with a slight progressive edge to it, while still really driving the song forward (both the riff and the lead work). It's also an interesting track in the context of this album. Although it certainly fits in with all the rest, it seems just slightly more mainstream than some of the more grinding tracks. I don't mean that either as a good or bad thing, just something to take note of. I'm actually quite fond of this album as a whole, as it really gives you a glimpse at the roots of what would follow. There are subtle things that are just barely breaking through here that really come into bloom on their next album. This song, with it's gritty guitar parts, is a good example of that. The slightly swaggering riff is echoed and amplified on tracks like "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" and later ones as well. Even if that wasn't the case though, this is a great rock song.

2: "Better Living Through Chemistry" from R
This might be my favorite QOTSA track of all time. From the opening bongo drums and the mystic flavored riff, right through the middle trippy, progressive freak out, it speaks to me. It opens in such a subtle way, but I can't think of anything that could better set the mood for this song than that minimal percussion... it just works so well on a very guttural, visceral, level. As the song progresses it goes through some shifting riffs that are all almost trance-like and hypnotic, creating a very smoky, mystic mood that shifts behind simple, but haunting backing vocals. I especially like to listen to this song on headphones because in the middle all the guitars fade out, like they're receding into the darkness, only to reemerge in the opposite side of the stereo image and crescendo back to full volume. It's an incredible song where everything just works perfectly, creating a lot of depth in the sonic landscape. If I was going to pick one tracks that best describe the sound of this band, this one would definitely be in the running.

3: "Mosquito Song" from Songs for the Deaf
Another favorite as this song is an stellar bit of composition. One of the few acoustic songs the band recorded it has a great guitar part that is folksy and delicate, but in a very dark, almost gothic way. Homme's vocal work is perfectly subtle and really ups the ante, as do the other parts that come in to add color (accordion, organ, piano and strings). What really makes this song stand out in my mind though is how it surges back in with these massive horn and drum parts in the middle. One, it's unexpected from a band that is primarily guitar based showing some symphonic elements in their songwriting and arrangements. Two, it works perfectly with the delicate acoustic guitar lead to build and give the song a real sense of grandeur. Three, the way it echoes the main riff in a counter melody is fantastic. Normally, I'm not really into these kind of symphonic arrangements, but this track is an exception. Although I do think it would be effective without those parts, it wouldn't have the same impact. It never sounds cliché or overtly over the top either. It would have been easy to use these massive sweeping parts to overkill, but on song, they hold back just enough to have a great impact, without killing it... Great song.

4: "You've Got a Killer Scene There" from Lullabies to Paralyze
This song has such a great feel to it. It's bluesy, but dark, drenched in smoke with a very seductive swagger that has adds to the hypnotic pulse. Pulse is a good way to describe it as it is a very visceral beat... nothing fluffy or canned, but dripping with authenticity and something very primal. Definitely not a lighthearted track (nothing from this band really is on first listen), it's quite heavy, but not depressing or pressing. Add some soulful and trippy lyrics delivered in the perfect voice, and a twisting, screeching guitar lead and you have a track that is progressive, but not overtly complex, and completely unique. It's tracks like this that I think really set this band apart from some of their peers. To channel a specific feel is one thing, but to morph that feel into different styles without losing what's at the core is not easy. This song is distinctly different from some of the band's more rockin' tracks, but it has the same spirit of those songs and really works well along side them. It's the same darkness and style, but wrapped up in this swaggering, primal blues instead of a rock riff. You can see it as the logical progression of the slight swagger I mentioned in the track "It's Only", and there are plenty of moments between that one and this one that solidify that progression.

5: "Suture Up Your Future" from Era Vulgaris
I really dig this newest release from QOTSA and this track is one of the reasons why. With an swinging back beat and bass line, a burst-of-sound-like guitar riff and vocals that seem to float over top, like smoke in the air, it's actually a pretty catchy song. I'm also fond of the lyrics as they seem to really fit the feel (really I like all of the QOSTA lyrics as there is a lot subtle social comment and wit contained within them, but that's a topic for another post). I don't think too many other bands could pull off a song like this that is both heavy and haunting, but also swaggering and seductive... both rocking and rolling you could say... dark and gritty, but not too dark that it would be depressing. In fact that's a good description of this band as a whole: dark, but not depressing, more seductive. This song may not be the best example of their overall sound, but it does have all the elements, rock guitar riffs, haunting vocals, somewhat cryptically deep lyrics, and even a more pushed, grinding riff to close it out. At the same time though, the unique beat speaks to a further progression into new styles as well.

Bonus: "Goin' Out West" outtake from Era Vulgaris
One of the outtakes from their most recent album that was available in some places online, I think this song is one of their best actually. What is now their trademark swagger, is all over it and they work it well with great lyrics and vocals, and some subtle but quite effective lead guitar work. Speaking of guitar work, the match of the somewhat twangy, clean riff, and the fuzzed out counter riff, really works well and is a good contrast that keeps the two riffs separated but still interwoven. I'm not sure why they chose this song to be an outtake, except maybe because it doesn't really fit in with the rest from this album. As I said, I think it's great and it's even got a very appropriate title and lyrics. The guitar work has that touch of earthiness that conjures images of motorcycles rolling down two lane highways out in the desert...hence, "Goin' Out West'... and maybe stopping as a dive of a bar called the "Last Ditch", or something equally appropriate, and getting in a bar fight. Great song if you can find it available for download somewhere. Maybe it'll be released on the next album, or as part of the Desert Sessions in the future... I hope so.

Double Bonus: "White Wedding" Billy Idol cover, outtake from Era Vulgaris
If I were to pick covers that I would "expect" this band to play, I don't think Billy Idol would be on that list. Don't let that phase you though, because I really, really like this version of this song... as much as the original, but for different reasons. The original has that mysticism that makes it more of a dark and gritty track than a rocker. This version has that as well, but sounds significantly darker still, I think because of the vocal style. Where Idol sings it with a bit of a punk rock growl, even on the more pulled back verses, Homme has more of a haunting feel of night imbued in his voice. That makes all the difference as both versions sound dark, but this one sounds black like night , maybe lit by the full moon for those dramatic shadows. Covers are always difficult to judge from any band because I like them to take the song somewhere new. At the same time though, if they take it the wrong direction, it kills the song, and if they take it in a direction that doesn't fit with their sound, it sounds out of place. This cover doesn't fall into those traps. It's a great take on this song, but at the same time, could be a QOTSA song. Definitely worth checking out if you can find it... this track was also available online at sometime, but I'm not sure where you can find it now.

As always, these are just a few of my favorites and each fan will have their own. I think these songs also show quite a depth for this band, and proof that they're one of the most exciting rock and roll bands around right now.

If this is your first real look at the Queens of the Stone Age, I highly recommend checking out any of their albums. They do range a bit, but now sound truly out of place as the band has a pretty consistent vibe throughout all of their music while still shifting styles. They're also a killer live band, so if you get a chance to go to a see them, don't hesitate. If you're already a QOTSA fan, than I'm sure you know what I'm talking about with these songs and probably have more than a few favorites of your own.

You can find all of these albums, except their self titled release, at Amazon or any of the other major music outlets. Their first release has been completely removed from their catalog (I have no idea why, the band still plays those songs live, and it may not be their best work, but it's still good). The only place I've seen this album for sale is used and as an import, massively overpriced. Of course there are "other" methods for obtaining it if you've really have to have it...it's worth getting if you're a major QOTSA fan... but I wouldn't directly suggest any of those methods.

There's also some exciting news floating around about QOTSA. Josh Homme has stated in some recent interviews that the band is really looking forward to recording more new material. Apparently this lineup is really gelling and the creative juices are flowing.

Does this mean we're going to have another new album from this band sooner rather than later? I hope so because they seem to keep getting better and better.


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