Queens of the Stone Age smash and roar through some of the best, most influential hard rock out there, even with a lineup that never seems to be the same twice.
And while their latest, “Era Vulgaris,” starts off with a whimper, it quickly works itself up into a bang that can be heard right through the end. Their music here is grimy, rough and raw, but it tries out some new sounds and quirkier edges, without losing the grimy, brooding feeling.
It opens rather limply — “Turning on the Screw,” a jumbled tangle of clashing cymbals, drums and almost mute basslines, which just sort of meanders around in circles. Josh Homme sings mournfully that “You got a question?/Please don’t ask it/It puts the lotion in the basket.”
Fortunately things perk up in the next song — dark, rapid riffs and twisting melodies are all over “Sick Sick Sick,” a creepily rapid song that gets more tantalizing as it continues. And it leads in to more good music of various types — the sinuous desert-rock, “Misfit Love’s” weirdly plaintive lament, creepy industral grinds, tightly-woven rock’n'roll with a catchy edge, fuzzy blasts of muscular metal, and finally the shifting, layered finale “Run Pig Run.”
“Era Vulgaris” is something of a contradiction — it’s a very polished album, but it also has grime, sweat and rough edges. That is to say, the band is expert at spinning some really tight songs with few weaknesses, but it’s got the raw power you usually associate with young bands. Bless their dark little hearts.
Homme’s rapid, nimble guitar goes overtime with fast, sharp riffs. And that guitar is woven with some dark murky bass, rapid drums, darkly curling keyboard and occasionally some samples (a rattlesnake?), all played with rapid-fire energy. The music twists itself either into a hard-rock rope, or a thunderstorm of brooding, shifting musical layers. And they’re not afraid to throw in something quirky and weird, like “Misfit Love.”
Homme’s jagged lyrics all center on his life near Hollywood — selling out (“How many times must I sell myself before my pieces are gone?”), sex, taking risks and leaving the past behind all come into play. Homme sings them in a rough, enthusiastic voice, although he also gets to roar and groan some spoken lines — and even gets accompanied by the smooth-voiced Mark Lanegan and mournful Julian Casablancas.
Hollywood never seemed so alarming and enticing as in “Era Vulgaris,” which starts rather weakly, but soon blossoms into a dark, dirty little gem. Vibrant.