At least now it can be said that Josh Homme and Queens can make a five star record without Nick Oliveri. Following Nick’s departure from the band, Queens released Lullabies to Paralyze, a great record that, unfortunately, seemed only to emphasize that Oliveri was not there, from the not so subtle lyrical jabs in “Everybody Knows That You’re Insane” to increased prevalence of slowed down grooves and blues, with often exceedingly slick production. Sure, the drawn out psychedelic riffs had been a QOTSA trademark from day one, but the lack of ANY punk/speed metal counterpoint was a constant, sad reminder that we were never going to hear “Millionaire” live again. Lullabies was a great record with unavoidable, bittersweet timing.
Years later many of us have gotten used to Queens without Nick, and appropriately Josh and company have unleashed a perfect record for this particular place in their career. Enough to remind of us of the good old days, and enough new stuff to remind us why this is one of the most inventive groups in rock. The production is rawer and more lo-fi than everything since their debut. The riffs are harder and the music is faster than on Lullabies. Everything we used to love. On the other hand, there’s great stuff we haven’t heard. Spidery guitar lines weaving in and out on songs like I’m Designer and Turning on the Screw, and a composition (3’s and 7’s) which throws everything Queens has done well in their career into one incredibly catchy riff rock buffet for your repeated consumption. Elsewhere, the album’s two most powerful cuts, the murky “Suture up Your Future” and “Into the Hollow” show Josh having perfected his falsetto wail, and remind the listener of the difference between hard and heavy. The combination of haunting grooves and emotional vocals on these 2 cuts are worth the price of admission alone. And “Make it Wit Chu,” another Desert Sessions redux, is no-frills classic rock that is as simple and honest as the original seventies soul and funk it is imitating. Lyrically, Josh continues to make strides. He’s come along way since the days when “marijuana, ecstasy, and alcohol” was known as his most legendary turn of phrase. In “I’m Designer” he toes the fine line between comedy and commentary ever so well, all while singing the verses in a rhythmic pattern I can only describe as “crazy homeless bluesman meter” that reminds you everything he does is at least a little bit tongue in cheek.
With a few exceptions, almost of all this release is excellent, and it continues to reveal new layers to me each time I pop it in. And quite honestly this is probably the most rewarding aspect of Era Vulgaris. It lacks the irreplicable manic presence of Oliveri both musically and lyrically, but makes up for it with musical ingenuity Lullabies only hinted at. Whether you prefer Rated R or Songs for the Deaf as the definitive QOTSA statement, this is probably their second best album.